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Greece’s Aging Tour Act

2017 July 14 by

Posted in: Europe   

Greek stocks were up almost 30% through mid-year as Euro area finance ministers approved the rescue program’s EUR 8.5 billion in June for a small net infusion after official and private bondholder repayment, and committed to further debt relief to keep the IMF on board.  The ECB has Fund participation as a precondition to possible government bond buying under quantitative easing, and the Washington agency and Germany remain at odds over growth and servicing calculations guiding sustainability. The 3.5 percent primary budget surplus target is intact for the next five years, and the Tsipras government, which hailed the “landmark” agreement, must complete other moves including professional services opening for full disbursement. Economic and business sentiment readings went above 90 and the PMI entered expansion for the first time in a year on the news, as tourism revenue increased 2.5 percent from January-May in part reflecting security scares in rivals Egypt and Turkey. The National Bank of Greece, a big exchange listing, sold more Balkan assets including its Romania subsidiary, but continues to struggle with its bad mortgage portfolio after home prices halved since the crisis. Moody’s upgraded the “C” rating with a positive outlook on output and fiscal stabilization, but cautioned about high political risk and reform delay. Cyprus’ visitor numbers have also picked up as Q1 GDP growth was a post-crisis high 3.5 percent, with unemployment down to 12.5 percent. A 7-year EUR 850 million Eurobond was oversubscribed at a yield 100 basis points lower than a year ago, which will partially go to early IMF repayment.

Speculation mounted about possible reunification talks breakthrough after the UN praised progress, and the Turkish side seemed to be more amenable to compromise with preoccupations at home on economic and political threats. The MSCI Index gain tied Greece on near 5 percent growth stoked by budget stimulus, in contrast with the record of basic balance over the past decade.  Public debt is less than 30 percent of output, but domestic borrowing costs and reliance have jumped, as bank Treasury bond buyers are also pressed to use a government guarantee scheme for priority small business and infrastructure project loans. Worker social security obligations were postponed and agricultural subsidies hiked. President Erdogan has also warned the central bank against tightening despite 12% inflation in a bid to maintain popularity as hundreds of thousands of civil servants are purged and educated professionals flee fearing arrest. The main opposition party has turned to a group protest walk across the country as a mobilization tool, which may spur another crackdown. Heavy handed tactics by security forces also were condemned after a visit to Washington when presidential guards attacked Turkish embassy marchers. Alleged lobbying and efforts to extradite exiled spiritual leader Gulen by ousted Trump national security aide Flynn also provoked a backlash. Eurobond issuance was over $6 billion from January-May, and the lira has settled around 4 to the euro with the capital account in 1 percent of GDP surplus, but the current account gap persists around 4 percent despite export surges by global champions like white goods maker Arcelik. Errors and omissions almost equaled the financial inflow size in the balance of payments as money escape also strikes a blow.

Central Europe’s Bypassed Boorish Behavior

2017 July 14 by

Posted in: Europe   

Central Europe stock markets, with Poland’s 32 percent gain the core universe leader, were strong through the first half as planned IPOs neutralized backlash against political heavy-handedness unsettling investors and drawing EU condemnation. GDP growth numbers at 4-5 percent were also solid, with low interest rates and inflation as the Czech central bank removed the currency peg and appreciation continued. Hungary’s climb was half Warsaw’s, although it outperforms on a one-year scorecard, as EUR 6 billion in annual public investment aid from Brussels may be in jeopardy on Prime Minister Orban’s hard-line stance against democracy activists and refugees, culminating in a recent campaign to shutter the Central European University founded by  Hungarian-American civil society and immigration benefactor Soros. Czech consumption was up a modest 2 percent in Q1, as inflation also hit that target to lift the koruna cap in place long after the Swiss central bank ended its intervention. Elections are due again in October, but may come earlier after the prime minister resigned and then retracted the move over his rivalry with business magnate and Finance Minister Babis, whom he accuses of tax violations. The President has refused to take sides in the fight, but Babis stepped down to prepare to lead his party, which has a double-digit margin in opinion surveys, in the upcoming polls.

Hungary’s monetary stance remains ultra-loose, with the central bank offering direct on-lending to sustain manufacturing as the PMI peaked at over 60 in May. Big freight firm Waberer’s is set for a record listing as a private equity exit with expected EUR 500 million capitalization. Its network straddles Western Europe and Germany in particular, and the deal would be a breakthrough in small and midsize firm support promised under official bourse takeover from the Vienna Exchange in 2015. Since then five companies were delisted, and private pension fund absence after seizure has deterred foreign participation. EU human rights spats have raised flags and the latest alleged breach of open education practice, along with corruption investigations into misused subway and other project funds, may heighten the stakes as the ruling party’s membership in the European parliament may be stripped as punishment. In Poland the “illiberal” camp is likewise in full swing with court and army appointments carefully controlled by the Law and Justice Party in power. Judicial independence would be at risk with new legislation which was criticized by security watchdogs for “undermining rule of law.” The military reshuffle in turn may endanger NATO equipment upgrade and spending commitments at a time the US administration has focused on these European ally shortfalls. Domestic demand is the main economic driver, but workers returning from London upon Brexit will dampen the outlook and add to high unemployment. Foreign buyers continue to own one-third of local debt, but the base has diversified to Asia and the Middle East and a “green bond” yield curve will be built as another innovation. However dedicated clean energy funds shunned Poland’s debut issue in view if its core coal industry, and pricing has otherwise been rich with the run-ups in JP Morgan’s benchmark domestic and external bond gauges through mid-year dirtying allocation.

Mozambique’s Mechanical Murky Water Dive

2017 July 7 by

Posted in: Africa   

The long-awaited audit of Mozambique’s $2 billion in suspicious loans from 2013 then defaulted by New York private investigator Kroll, paid for by the Swedish Embassy upon IMF insistence before program consideration, was released by the Attorney General, which has a separate domestic criminal inquiry. One-quarter of the total could not be tracked, and the three state company borrowers,tied to the national intelligence agency, reportedly spent $700 million too much for acquired fishing vessels and security equipment. The obligations were hidden off-budget from the Fund and bilateral donors that subsequently suspended aid. The debt syndicate arrangers, Credit Suisse and Russia’s VTB Capital, came in for criticisms over high fees amounting to $200 million which they claim were overstated. The detectives noted pervasive lack of cooperation and documentation in their findings, and a Fund statement welcomed the summary despite “information gaps.” Creditors of the lapsed “tuna bond” have yet to show their hand, as the country continues to negotiate new offshore gas exploration deals. They remain reluctant to take haircuts and may also press legal action against the underwriters for alleged deception or negligence. Kroll further discovered after reviewing business plans and feasibility studies that the Mozambique companies in question were “not fully operational” with “considerable” management dereliction and excess contractor authority. The government guarantee process was “inadequate” with conflicts of interest and admission of budget law breach. Tendering also entailed questionable due diligence, and loan agreements had unexplained fees. The companies have no revenue and product supply invoices are unclear and inconsistent, although assets could be physically located. Other state enterprises rather than the borrowings provided share capital. Credit Suisse demanded prior central bank approval and IMF disclosure, but the paper trail suggested only these conditions were “overcome.” According to the authors company executives may not only have been in violation of debt covenants but the local commercial code without proper qualifications, accounting and project oversight.

Cameroon in the Central African Francophone zone is the latest oil exporter to turn to a Fund arrangement, as the fiscal toll left it unable to meet monetary union convergence targets. President Biya is one of the continent’s longest serving rulers, and the border with Nigeria has become embattled with the Boko Haram rebellion. Its President issued his first public declaration since May after unknown medical treatment. Bank exposure to oil companies has triggered fears of another crisis, as MSCI put the stock market on “self-standing” notice for its foreign exchange crunch implying near-term frontier index expulsion. Ghana has less than a year to go on its Fund facility as it registered a QI small primary fiscal surplus which may finally embed consolidation. The trade balance was also positive with cocoa exports up 25% in the quarter on forward sales. Gold and oil shipments and FDI rose as well and international reserves at $6.5 billion, a five-year high, have slowed currency intervention. Inflation is still in double digits and although foreign investors are back in the local bond market as external issuance is cautious yields may again spike on likely supply curbs to ensure that austerity is no longer finessed.

Forced Displacement’s Involuntary Toll Tally

2017 July 7 by

Posted in: General Emerging Markets   

The UN Refugee agency released its annual report on global relocation due to war and persecution, with the total rising to 65 million, one-third refugees crossing borders and the majority internally displaced within their own countries. Last year 10 million were newly uprooted, and half of refugees are children and 85 percent are in the developing world. The Syria conflict is the biggest contributor with 5.5 million citizens fleeing, followed by Afghanistan and South Sudan respectively at 2.5 million and 1.5 million. Lebanon hosts the highest portion in per capita and Turkey in absolute terms, and 2 million asylum claims were filed and 190,000 refugees resettled in 2016, half in the US before the Trump administration’s proposed stricter limits. The number on the move has doubled in twenty years mainly due to Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa unrest. After Syria’s 12 million Columbia has the most displaced with over 7.5 million and Nigeria, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen also range from 2-3 million. South Sudan’s exodus was particularly pronounced last year with spillover into neighboring poor countries like Uganda. The 22 million refugees include 5 million Palestinians under the UNHCR’s longstanding mandate, and they increased 1 million globally. Africa had a 15 percent jump and Turkey now has received 500,000 more Syrians than all of Europe’s 2.3 million, and also has 15,000 exiles from Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. Pakistan has 1.5 million Afghanis; Lebanon 1 million Syrians and Uganda 650,000 South Sudanese. Jordan has taken in 650,000 from Syria, almost double the influx into Germany. Kenya has the tenth biggest refugee cohort of 450,000 chiefly from Somalia. In Asia almost 500,000 Rohingya left Myanmar as of last year, with half staying in Bangladesh and 100,000 each going to Malaysia and Thailand. Low and middle-income economies disproportionately accommodate inflows, with “least developed” Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia and Sudan among others with 5 percent of the world total. Two-thirds are in “protracted” stays of five years-plus and 4 million have been way for an average 20 years, according to the UN data.

Last September’s General Assembly summit emphasized durable solutions, including voluntary repatriation, third-country resettlement and local integration, but they have been “inadequate” and left large swathes in “precarious” position. Returnees with official assistance are less than 5 percent, and the US, Australia and the UK are now tightening entry programs while Canada continues its welcome. Legal status through naturalization extended to just 25,000 in 2016, with France, Belgium and Austria boosting designations. Labor and education are improving as “complementary pathways” but domestic competition and lack of capacity continue as long-term obstacles. Libya and the Philippines had 450,000 and 250,000 respective internal returnees despite strife, which has since worsened and is likely to reignite escape. Almost 3 million sought asylum, and while Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian applications comprised 70 percent in the US half came from Mexico and Central America including Venezuela. Italy received almost 50,000 claims from Nigeria, Gambia, Senegal and Eritrea.  France, Greece, Sweden and South Africa also processed large amounts and 900,000 were approved overall with Germany alone rendering 600,000 decisions. Another 3 million people are formally “stateless” and of the 17 million refugees outside the Palestinian saga half have private shelter, and 4.5 million are in managed or self-designed camps which may not displace anger and fear, the report suggests.

The BIS’ Layered Globalization Glee

2017 June 24 by

Posted in: Global Banking   

The Bank for International Settlements hailed globalization’s “profoundly positive” results the past half-century in its annual report, due to the “deeply symbiotic” connection between trade and financial openness. It acknowledged inequality and instability with the process, which can be better governed and managed as an economic development strategy both domestically and globally. The proliferation of foreign assets and liabilities and currency hedging, often through banks following cross-border customers, can be divided into three increasingly complex layers moving from simple commodities sale and associated credit to direct transactions for balance sheet purposes. Around half of trade is invoiced in dollars and one-quarter in euros, and basic letters of credit are used in one-sixth of deals. As the global value chain and FDI have deepened in recent decades, more specialized products like derivatives have spread, and in the final phase since the 1980s purely financial engineering supercharged integration so that emerging market international exposure almost doubled to 180 percent of GDP. Developing economies represent half of the worldwide manufacturing chain, with China alone taking one-fifth. As with multinational companies in commerce, global banking groups dominate finance with vast country and regional networks unable to be reflected accurately in nation-based reporting and statistics. Emerging markets’ inward investment contains both debt and equity flows, with the latter implying long-term commitment and the former short-run intra-firm borrowing and speculation. Their exposure has jumped toward offshore money centers as treasuries became more sophisticated and allocations did not involve plan and equipment outlays.

Since the financial crisis a decade ago globalization has been “in check” due in part to lingering trade weakness, but conventional measures of assets and liabilities to output overstate the correction as developing market openness has continued “unabated,” the report insists. Pullback has centered on cross-border bank loans, particularly from Europe, as portfolio fixed-income and stock volume increased. “Deglobalization” is debunked by careful definitions of the prevailing data, which shows lenders in forty jurisdictions reporting a 20 percent drop in cross-border claims from 2007-13 on a balance of payment basis, which can double count and ignore local lines of the consolidated unit. Scrubbing the numbers by bank nationality, Europe’s retreat is  pervasive but can be attributed largely to cyclical deleveraging needed to meet stricter BIS capital and liquidity rules. Financial linkages also transfer technology and boost inclusion by allowing low-income borrowers access to new channels, but can favor capital over traditional labor returns to create wealth disparities. In historical experience cross-border credit flows have been pro-cyclical to amplify booms and busts, and the dollar has soared in risk aversion periods as well to harm emerging market accounts. Since the 2008 crash global monetary policy has also been ultra-sensitive to US Federal Reserve moves, and in addition to building foreign reserves macro-prudential tools have been a crucial defense, and joint regulatory approaches have been forged between geographic and functional financial system blocks. Currency swap mechanisms and tax harmonization can go further, especially with long-run interest rate correlation so tight in recent years. In a sampling of 35 countries, 25 had close spillovers from Fed rate and quantitative easing decisions, and simultaneous shocks could add another layer to the future one-world story.

 

Cuba’s Thwarted Thaw Thickening

2017 June 24 by

Posted in: Latin America/Caribbean   

Cuban asset prices sank as the Trump administration announced partial reversal of bilateral travel and commercial openings and harshly criticized authoritarian human rights practices overlooked in other regions. The tougher line fulfills a presidential campaign pledge to Miami’s exile community cheering the changes, while business lobbies like the US Chamber of Commerce were upset that global competitors would have easier access, as their countries long ago approved individual tourism and joint ventures under military control that will now be banned after the Treasury Department issues guidelines. Airlines had reduced or severed routes before the decision, as visitor infrastructure from internet availability to hotel occupancy frustrated demand with renewed diplomatic relations two years ago. However big cruise lines with expansion plans through end-decade may preserve their strategy as they cater to groups with accommodations in place, but disappointments also mounted with the lack of credit card acceptance, dual exchange rate, and poor organized visit experience for foreigners. Starwood was the only US operator to offer a resort as an alternative to state-run hotels, as the Brookings Institute projection of $10 billion in hospitality earnings by 2030, twice current imports, appeared remote without underlying tax and administrative shifts as well promoting more private sector investment. Nearby Haiti, with the hemisphere’s lowest per capita income, has been considered a more promising destination, and new President Moise will encourage agricultural and industry hubs with reliable electricity supply around northern beach locations in his economic strategy under an IMF staff-monitored program.

In the Dominican Republic in contrast tourism revenue was up 10 percent last year to over $6.5 billion, almost one-tenth of output, with 2017 set to deliver another record. European visitors now account for one-quarter of the total, with North Americans still dominant at two-thirds. Remittances in turn, mainly from the US, swelled near 15 percent as Q1 economic growth continued at a 5 percent clip as the regional leader. A primary budget surplus has helped halve the deficit to 2 percent of GDP, and the current account gap is the same with higher gold exports and slashed oil imports, with the difference covered by mining and hotel FDI. Costa Rica is close with 4 percent growth heading into the 2018 election season, with inflation within the 3 percent target range. Fiscal reform has stumbled on political opposition with public debt hitting 60 percent of GDP, with the external portion rising faster on international bond issuance. The 10 percent trade deficit likewise persists, and the central bank has warned capital goods demand may not translate quickly into productive capacity. El Salvador is caught in a low growth twin deficit trap with a $600 million global bond in February used to repay local Treasury bills, as pension fund obligations have not been met amid government infighting. Panama alone has maintained its investment grade as Chinese diplomatic recognition was shifted from Taiwan to Beijing in advance of its president’s White House trip. With expansion Canal toll earnings jumped 20 percent in the first quarter, and re-exports through the Colon Free zone have also picked up to support 5 percent growth. A fiscal responsibility law has enabled sovereign wealth fund transfer, and the Panama papers tax evasion saga has faded although reputation isolation lingers.

 

 

Islamic Finance’s Africa Affinity Sweepstakes

2017 June 18 by

Posted in: Africa   

Malaysia’s Islamic Finance Center regular bulletin surveyed the sector’s “centerpiece” status in a half dozen African countries, with 50 banks including major ones in Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa providing sharia-compliant products through dedicated windows. Sukuk bonds in turn have spread to Senegal, Mauritius, Gambia and Morocco with the African Finance Corporation recently issuing a $150 million pilot. Globally the industry should have $6 trillion in assets by end-decade, and Kuala Lumpur’s example, with 75 percent of corporate fixed income in sukuk form, can be replicated elsewhere. The worldwide Islamic bond total last year was $350 billion, almost a 10 percent annual increase. The report argues that the style fits a “responsible investment” strategy with over $20 trillion in commitments and that the regulatory and liquidity management pieces are now in place with twenty core standards and official backstop facilities. African growth is partially due to Asian and Middle East funds seeking additional outlets and to its natural resource and demographic base creating demand for credit and savings tools. It is also a means to financial inclusion with the vast unbanked population, with family and friends relied on ten times more than formal sources for small-scale loans across eight representative countries including Niger, Uganda and Zambia. Micro-finance could be a catalyst for business such as halal food export and the Islamic Development Bank and Sudan have concentrated efforts there.  Regional infrastructure needs are close to $100 billion/year and long-term Islamic bonds should meet diversification goals as short term government activity picks up in Gambia, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal. “ Green” clean energy projects are proliferating across the continent to relieve shortages where these techniques could be adopted at the outset, aided by technical assistance from official lenders as well as consulting and training arms attached to more advanced Islamic hubs.

Egypt’s previous push was associated with Muslim Brotherhood rule, but since President Al-Sisi came to power it has been tied to local and external bond market normalization in the context of IMF program return. Foreign investors have acquired $1 billion in domestic instruments after shunning them entirely since the Arab Spring. The first Fund mission praised the 9 percent of GDP budget deficit and 4% growth for the first quarter, although inflation spurted to 30 percent after currency and subsidy swings. The central bank hiked the policy rate 200 basis points to over 17 percent to further fatten local yields although taxation could change. Nigeria has also tightened monetary policy through open market operations and foreign exchange sales as officials try to ease currency controls in the belief that economic shock has passed with oil price recovery and non-oil sector stimulus. Spending is due to rise 10 percent in real terms in the latest budget as the government looks to foreign military and diplomatic support to fight Boko Haram and famine in the north. The president is still on extended medical leave with an undisclosed illness and the vice president is by all accounts in charge of the reform and stabilization agenda to include a new petroleum industry bill debated for years without passage. A diaspora external bond is in the pipeline with a sukuk version likely as the family expands.

Venezuela’s Crass Credit Craving

2017 June 18 by

Posted in: Latin America/Caribbean   

Venezuelan bonds as top EMBI performers came under pressure for boycott or index removal, after leading houses were reported to have scooped up issues held by the central bank and other captive buyers at a steep discount through small specialist brokers. Goldman Sachs bought a $3 billion chunk at one-third the price through a London intermediary, and Nomura and Morgan Stanley were also involved in deals. Opposition parties in Caracas condemned the move and expatriate demonstrations were organized in Miami and Washington as a former Planning Minister, head of Harvard’s International Development Institute, referring to widespread staple food shortages, dubbed the instruments “hunger bonds.” He called for benchmark index removal as MSCI applied long ago for equities given pervasive exchange controls. Although international reserves are not formally divulged they are estimated in gross terms at $10 billion, roughly equivalent to import needs with scant cushion for debt-servicing. PDVSA has already executed a maturity swap which won bare acceptance with local investor control, and its future was further thrown into question with its chief executive due to depart. A President Maduro loyalist is set to fill the slot, who was previously in charge at US unit Citgo, which has pledged collateral both to bondholders and Russian partner Rosneft in case of default. The Treasury Department increased scrutiny of the relationship as the Trump administration debates sanctions against the regime after the President tweeted about a meeting with the spouse of jailed opposition head Lopez. Military support at home may be wavering as security forces demur at cracking down on street protesters, as Maduro’s bid for a hand-picked national assembly to rewrite the constitution and mollify popular outcry has met with sweeping criticism following the Organization for American States’ anti-democracy condemnation. The Chinese meanwhile are bracing for further losses on their $50 billion bilateral loans with unknown asset claims that could place them in direct conflict with other creditors.

Previous high-flyer Brazil has also lost favor, as MSCI equity gains fell to 3 percent through May, with the Electoral Court to determine whether President Temer received illegal campaign contributions after release of a payoff tape he claimed was “doctored.” Core PMDB party backing may no longer be assured as the stage is set for another potential impeachment. He promises to continue pressing labor and fiscal reform agendas, but major public pension overhaul in particular could be in danger with the budget deficit heading toward 10 percent of GDP despite renewed growth. The Temer recording allegedly came from one of the founding brothers of global meat supplier JBS, which faces bond and stock holder lawsuits after admitting to bribery and accepting a $3 billion penalty. Prosecutors got wind of wider misconduct after investigating inspector kickbacks for tainted products. Beef rival Argentina in contrast paced frontier markets with a 45 percent jump on possible track toward an MSCI upgrade in advance of primary elections before the October parliamentary poll. President Macri and his party intend to underscore economic success with the recession over and fiscal targets mostly honored with a one-time amnesty as $30 billion in capital has poured into one-month central bank bonds with yields over 20 percent. A new internationally-compliant consumer inflation gauge will be operational in July with likely IMF endorsement as the current administration craves its approval after a decade of resistance.

The World Bank’s Economic Prospect Pratfalls

2017 June 10 by

Posted in: IFIs   

The World Bank’s June Global Economic Prospects analysis predicted 4 percent emerging market growth this year after 2016’s 3.5 percent “stagnation,” on broad commodity export and domestic demand rebound, but warned of longer-term structural productivity and trade drags for an overall “soft” recovery. Fiscal sustainability is often an issue, while currencies have strengthened with inflation in retreat. Household balance sheets are stretched in big natural resource countries like Brazil, Russia and Kazakhstan, and energy lags metal and farm sales performance. Sub-Sahara Africa has floundered with 2.5 percent growth forecast on additional political, security and weather challenges. In Francophone West Africa infrastructure has been the main driver, and Senegal re-tapped the Eurobond market in May. Current account deficits remain high in Rwanda and Uganda as they also struggle with refugee inflows. Exchange rates have collapsed in the Democratic Republic of Congo as President Kabila clings to power despite promised elections, and in Mozambique with external debt default following an inflation spike above 20 percent in the first quarter. While China and India slow other major developing economies including Mexico and Turkey will pick up the slack, but “headwinds” linger against further momentum ranging from lack of value chain integration to governance and institutional weakness. By region Europe-Central Asia and MENA will grow 2 percent, and Latin America/Caribbean just 1 percent this year, with the latter dampened by US policy fallout from the new administration’s pledged import and immigration curbs. Budget stimulus in industrial nations should be a net benefit, but “downside” protectionist and geopolitical risks will outweigh it, according to the Bank. The Middle East is at the perennial center of conflict worries, but North Korea is now in the mix and food and water scarcity cut across wide swathes of Africa. Tighter and more volatile global finance could loom with monetary policy changes not just in the North America, Europe and Japan but in China as well with the current deleveraging push with shadow banking’s squeeze. Dollar appreciation could aggravate corporate foreign currency borrowing as domestic credit backstops are not as readily available, according to the IIF’s latest lending condition survey with the still below 50 index. Oil prices could again slide with shale gas competition and non-observance of OPEC pacts. The earlier output boom from capital accumulation has not been followed by innovation and technology strides, and demographic pressures have also started to limit potential, the review cautions.

China is singled out for reform urgency with progress in state enterprise, tax, local government debt, and securities market consolidation amid lingering corporate and financial vulnerabilities. Private sector discipline and hard borrowing constraints could go further, and land and urban migration shifts can boost efficiency and employment. Emerging economies generally need increased banking system capital and liquidity, and public debt maturities should be extended and sovereign stabilization funds replenished. Labor and education overhaul and higher fixed capital formation with better property rights should be priorities and bilateral and regional commercial deepening in the absence of global agreements, such as the EU’s recent partnerships with CIS and Central American counterparts may be the future model. These accords can slash poverty but require supporting competition and capital market rules for more favorable prospects, the Bank insists.

 

 

The Arab Spring’s Seasonal Exam Markdown

2017 June 10 by

Posted in: MENA   

The IMF completed reviews on the second post-Arab Spring round of programs with Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco, as Egypt awaited a turn after signing its agreement six months ago with stock markets flat to negative reflecting the lackluster reports. Jordan’s economic plight remained “challenging” with 2 percent growth, 4 percent inflation and over 15 percent decade-high unemployment. The fiscal deficit fell to 4 percent of GDP last year, with state utility company losses down, but public debt rose to 95 percent and the current account gap swelled above 9 percent. Geopolitical and security tensions still “impinge” on the medium-term investment outlook, despite additional donor support for refugee hosting, now able to be channeled through a World Bank-led $1 billion concessional platform. The Fund urged further moves against tax exemption and evasion and toward public-private partnerships to reduce budget costs and strengthen infrastructure efficiency. The central bank has hiked rates with foreign reserves slipping below target, as work continues on deposit protection, insurance, bankruptcy and other rules to bolster the business climate. Tunisia also was scolded for its runaway government wage bill elevating debt/GDP to 65 percent as growth doubles to a meager 2.5 percent, “too low” to attack youth joblessness and interior region poverty. The 5-year development plan aims to restore stability and tackle structural barriers through corruption and state bank and enterprise cleanups. Exchange rate flexibility and pension overhaul are on the agenda, and the country could benefit from the G-20 Compact for Africa initiative under outgoing host Germany. At home protests have erupted over proposed “economic reconciliation” legislation that would grant amnesty to illegal fund holders in return for declaring and investing the proceeds, as a “second revolution” has sparked occupation of key mining sites triggering military protection. The new US-trained Finance Minister has yet to win additional backing from Washington, as preparations for the joint commercial summit inaugurated last year stay on hold under the Trump administration.

For Morocco’s $3.5 billion arrangement risks are to the “downside” despite an expected growth rebound to 4 percent with unfinished fiscal and banking sector consolidation. Inflation is in the 1-2 percent range, and corporate and household deleveraging cut credit expansion to 5 percent, as the bad loan ratio neared double digits. Concentration with leading banks chasing the same state company borrowers and cross-border exposure throughout Sub-Sahara networks are major concerns, as the construction industry also heads into a weak period. The current account deficit should be 2 percent of GDP this year with good phosphate exports and tourism and remittance inflows. After preliminary fuel subsidy rollback, budget efforts have stalled and the Justice and Development party after securing an extended mandate in October elections intends to pursue decentralization, civil service salary caps, and better public enterprise governance. Parliament is set to approve provisions for bank emergency liquidity assistance as formal supervisory understandings are forged in the respective Francophone zones with a Moroccan presence. The currency peg is gradually shifting to a fluctuation band, and “e-regulation” is at the center of a campaign to lift the number 70 ranking in the World Bank’s Doing Business publication. Small firm credit access is a priority, and new collateral procedures are designed to unblock traditional financial establishment hesitation, according to the latest Article IV survey.