Archive for the ‘economics’ Category

Venezuela: Tweet of the day

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

Bad news for Chile

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Mary O’Grady reports on how Bachelet’s policies have repercussions:
The Chile ‘Miracle’ Goes in Reverse
Investment and growth are falling, and now the government targets private schools.

To understand why the outlook for the Chilean “miracle” is so grim and investment is plummeting, look no further than this government’s obsession with holding back those who would skate ahead of the pack.

Ms. Bachelet has increased tax rates on everything from capital to consumption. One objective is to soak the investor class, making it poorer so that income inequality goes down. But it is more likely that income disparities will go up since the rich have ways to shelter income while the poor depend on job creation from investment to earn their daily bread and build wealth.

Additionally, Bachelt will end school vouchers,

The new law, which passed the lower house last month and now goes to the senate, would prohibit students from using vouchers to attend for-profit schools and prohibit schools that receive public subsidies from charging parents a co-payment. What is more, schools will no longer be allowed to select students because, apparently, it is “unfair” for gifted children to learn at their own speed.

Vouchers make it harder to indoctrinate kids, too.

Chile had a good run.

So much for that.

Venezuela: last on property rights

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

Hugo Chavez, who expropriated millions of acres of farmland (along with private properties and businesses) left an enduring legacy:
Venezuela ranks last in Property Rights Index
Lorenzo Montanari, the executive director of the Property Rights Alliance (PRA), said the survey measured the “consistency of property rights in 97 countries” and assessed three aspects: political legal environment, physical property rights and intellectual property rights

The IPRI study, which you can read here, corroborates the fact that

there is a positive, strong, and significant relationship between the strength of property rights protections and a country’s economic performance as measured by GDP per capita.

Mike Birds writes that Venezuela’s Decision To Import Oil Is The Perfect Example Of Just How Screwed The Country Is

In other Venezuelan news, Leopoldo López refused to appear before a court hearing on Tuesday, demanding the government respond to a UN resolution calling for his release.

Judge Susana Barreiros scheduled the hearing while the court was not in session, having suspended proceedings indefinitely on October 14. López’s lawyers regarded the suspension as an attempt to delay the court’s response to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, which requested López’s immediate release on October 8.

After Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called on the Venezuelan government to free Lopez, Venezuela recalled its ambassador to Spain.

Lilian Tintori, the wife of opposition leader Leopoldo López, learned that he could be transferred from Ramo Verde military prison to another jail.



Brazil: Ibovespa volatility

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

First Brazil’s stocks tanked,
Ibovespa Tumbles Toward Bear Market as Rousseff’s Win Sinks Real

Brazil’s benchmark equity index led global declines as President Dilma Rousseff’s re-election damped speculation for a change in policies that wiped out $553 billion of stock market value and left the economy in recession.

The Ibovespa (IBOV) dropped 2.8 percent to 50,503.66 at the close of trading, the most among the 20 biggest indexes globally. After tumbling as much as 6.2 percent earlier, approaching the threshold for a bear market, the gauge pared losses as education companies and pulp exporters rallied. The real posted the world’s biggest loss as it sank 1.9 percent to a nine-year low.

After years of weak growth, high inflation and intervention, Dilma’s re-election tanked the currency, too,

The real’s plunge to 2.5224 per dollar put it at the weakest level on a closing basis since April 2005. One-month implied volatility on options for the real, reflecting projected shifts in the currency, was the world’s highest. The currency sank 12 percent in the past three months.

Then why did things rise up again?

“To some extent, markets were already pricing in her victory last week, and that may explain why the reaction to the election results wasn’t as negative as I expected,” Alvaro Marangoni, a partner at Quadrante Investimentos Ltda., said by phone from Sao Paulo. “We’re all waiting to see if policies are adjusted so the economy can recover.”

That’s an optimist, indeed.

The states that opposed Dilma out in the grasslands, soybean farms, cattle ranches and productive and innovative industrial centers down south, went for her free-market opponent. The states with 25% of the population dependent on welfare went for Dilma,

The takers have become politically stronger than the makers

As Monica Showalter of IBD said,

Now Brazil can look forward to not just low growth, but also high protectionist trade walls, more taxes, more corruption, more intrusive government and an increasingly arrogant state.

I was optimistic on Brazil years ago, but no more.

Argentina: Creeping to the edge

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Chris Noon interviews Prof. Steve Hanke on Argentina creeping closer to the edge. You must read the interview in full,

Argentina’s bleak fiscal situation could deteriorate further over the next year, with a prominent economist telling Interfax on Monday the Latin American country’s foreign reserves could shrink to “near $10 billion” by October 2015. It would leave Buenos Aires struggling to meet payments for dollar-denominated LNG imports, which are essential to the country’s energy matrix.

“To get there [$10 billion], we would see monthly declines in reserves that were roughly similar to those of Q1 2014. It could come about through macroeconomic factors, such as the combination of a strong US dollar, weak commodity prices, and decreasing oil prices. The Saudis are squeezing their competition – especially Canadian tar sands producers – as they push for more market share. This may push down Brent crude further to $60-70 per barrel,” said Hanke.
“It’s difficult to say what will be the ‘straw to break the camel’s back’, but if you keep piling up economic problems, you create a ‘tipping-point’ situation. There’s just too much weight on everything and it gives way,” said the economist.

Trying to put a band-aid on a gashing wound, the government is trying to bring dollars into the country by forcing farmers to export soybeans held in storage even when the price of soybeans has plummeted by around 30% since April, and

Buenos Aires has resorted to making deals with friendly foreign lenders to replenish its coffers. A multibillion-dollar currency swap between Argentina and China will be launched in November, the Latin American country’s central bank chief was quoted as saying in a local paper on Sunday.

That will probably help remedy Argentina’s deeply-ingrained structural problems as well as Venezuela’s oil deals with China have in solving that country’s problems, which is to say, not at all.

Venezuela: Mileposts on the highway to hell

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Reading news about Venezuela brings to mind AC/DC lyrics,

Dont stop me!

I’m on the highway to hell
On the highway to hell!
Highway to hell!
I’m on the highway to hell

And I’m going down..all the way
I’m on the highway to hell

Fingerprints for food


Venezuela Readies 2015 Budget
Venezuela’s finance minister assured lawmakers that the country was poised to handle sliding oil prices and wouldn’t default on its debt, while proposing a 35% increase in the 2015 budget.

Venezuela, which depends on oil for 96% of its export revenue, has seen the price for its crude slide to $77.65 a barrel, the lowest since late 2010 and a drop of $15 since late September.

A scarcity of dollars has spurred shortages of basic goods in the import-dependent country and made investors increasingly nervous. Oil rich but cash strapped, Venezuela carries a total of $67.4 billion in debt issued by the government and state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, also known as PdVSA.

The country’s budget deficit registers at 16.9% of gross domestic product, government figures show, above the mark of countries like Greece and Spain during the eurozone debt crisis. Venezuela’s foreign reserves fell below $20 billion earlier this month for the first time since 2003.

Despite Riches, Venezuela Starts Food Rationing
Government Rolls Out Fingerprint Scanners to Limit Purchases of Basic Goods; ‘How Is it Possible We’ve Gotten to This Extreme’

At the blogs:
Venezuela: Is Default Truly A Four Letter Word?

The pain from the China loans

The situation is quite simple. Because of the loans we signed with China – them paying in advance for future shipments in oil – the drop in oil prices means Venezuela doesn’t just sell each barrel for less money, it also has fewer barrels available to sell to the market. Venezuela’s downturn is therefore made all the worse by the ridiculous conditions the geniuses at PDVSA signed on to.

In other words, a bad situation is made worse, and the hit in our fiscal income is all the larger.

Sing it, guys!



Venezuela: “Underperformance” doesn’t begin to describe it

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Even when the Venezuelan government has not allowed its own numbers to be verified for almost a decade, and stopped reporting various standard economoic indicators several years ago (practices which all started during Chavez’s administration), the numbers that it does report confirm The Economist’s appraisal of the country as Probably the world’s worst-managed economy.

Right now the government,

facing deteriorating economic conditions at home, is quietly slashing imports to cover foreign debt payments amid a severe hard-currency crunch.

Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff write on Venezuela’s Spectacular Underperformance 

Maduro, of course, rules over a major oil-exporting economy that is so badly mismanaged that real (inflation-adjusted) per capita GDP today is 2% lower than it was in 1970, despite a ten-fold increase in oil prices.

The relevant reality now is the long-term plight and dwindling standard of living of the average Venezuelan citizen. Over the past 45 years, as Venezuela’s real per capita GDP fell, US per capita GDP roughly doubled and Chile’s per capita GDP nearly tripled. And neutral observers project that 2014 will be even worse for Venezuela – not surprising, given the chaos of the country’s policy fundamentals.

Venezuela repeatedly has defaulted on the moneys it owes on pharmaceutical imports, food, airlines, oil suppliers and joint-venture partners; Reinhart and Rogoff ask

historically there have been many external defaults without domestic defaults, the converse is not true: nearly all domestic defaults are “twin defaults” that also involve external creditors. Will the Venezuelan case be different?

In other words, the two things go hand in hand, and it’s only a matter of time before Wall Street bond-holders are treated like foreign airlines.

However, Francisco Toro points out that

in the technical sense that’s relevant in market terms, Venezuela is not in domestic default.
. . .
This is the crux of the Great Venezuela Macro Debate of 2013-2014: to what extent can the government’s patent inability to meet its obligations be ascribed to a basic inability to pay, and to what extent is it just the Nth insane distortion you get when the government makes it illegal to pay a penny more than 77 cents for a $10 bill?

So, while we split hairs on exchange rate misalignments and the like, Venezuela undoubtely becomes a land of political killings and gang turf wars.

Related: Venezuela: The Left vs. reality



Argentina: Hoping it’s hit rock bottom

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Incurable optimists are betting that Argentina has hit rock bottom:

Argentina’s economy is projected to contract by 2.1% this year and its inflation rate is among the world’s highest. In July, Argentina defaulted for a second time in 13 years. A U.S. judge on Monday found Argentina in contempt of court for its handling of the debt.

Investors see a potential turning point in presidential elections scheduled for October 2015, from which Mrs. Kirchner is constitutionally barred.

Contenders for her post have vowed to work toward exiting default and to adopt policies aimed at righting the economy.

Money managers hope to get in front of a stampede into Argentina should a new government succeed in restoring the country’s credibility in global financial markets.

Well, yeah, if I won the Power Ball I may make it to the Forbes 400.

Snark aside, Argentina has been defaulting on its debt since 1826. The country’s stock market is small, another devaluation is looming, the peso has dropped to a record low against the dollar, the country’s foreign exchange laws and business environment are negative, public spending is out of control, Steve Hanke estimates a 68% annual inflation rate, and, while yields may be high, the central bank’s reserves are dwindling and the government does not have a strategy to solve its domestic economic problems.

Oh yes, it can get worse. When the airlines don’t sell tickets more than 90 days in advance for fear they won’t get paid, you know things are not about to get rosy.

The Merval’s up. Take that as a sell signal.



Ecuador’s new fake currency

Monday, August 25th, 2014

And it’s not even bitcoin.

Mary O’Grady writes about Ecuador’s Phony Bitcoin Ploy
President Correa’s new ‘electronic currency’ will make it easier to engage in monetary devaluation.

This year Ecuador will run a fiscal deficit, including debt service, of some $9.2 billion, more than 9% of GDP. That’s what happens with budgeting that forecasts that oil prices will grow to the sky. It will be hard to shrink bloated state payrolls and subsidies, and the cost of servicing rising debt levels isn’t getting any cheaper.

To return this year to the international capital markets with a $2 billion 10-year bond, Ecuador had to pay a whopping 7.95% coupon. It also took out a $400 million three-year loan from Goldman Sachs against Ecuadorean gold to meet budget shortfalls. China holds $11 billion in Ecuadorean debt, not including billions of dollars in loans from Beijing secured by future oil shipments at an undisclosed price.

Now Mr. Correa is planning for when he runs out of other people’s money. The central bank says its new money will be a parallel currency backed up by dollars or the “equivalent” and used to pay its 500,000 bureaucrats in a “hygienic” manner. But if so, why not use dollars? In today’s world, there’s nothing special about transferring money electronically. Implying that this is a “virtual” currency is an attempt to lend Bitcoin-like cachet to what will essentially be IOUs issued by a country with a rather dodgy credit history.

And, if you think Ecuador may be a good place to retire, keep in mind that

Ecuadoreans are not free to speak against this threat to their earnings and savings. Mr. Correa is well known for using the judicial system and the army to threaten and silence his critics. Earlier this month he won the passage of a new law that makes it a crime—punishable by up to seven years in prison—to “publish, broadcast or spread” news that creates “economic panic.”

Panic indeed.

A “parallel currency backed up by dollars”? Don’t be the next Lord Crawley.

Brazil: Opposition now has Arminio Fraga

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Arminio Fraga, president of Brazil’s central bank from 1999 to 2002 under the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration, is now back in the game:
Brazil Ex-Insider Returns to Help Oust President
With slow growth and high inflation hurting Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s chances of winning a second term, former central banker Arminio Fraga joins the opposition to persuade voters that Brazil needs a new economic steward.

Mr. Fraga appears to be positioning himself as something of an inflation whisperer. As president of Brazil’s central bank from 1999 to 2002 under the administration of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, he helped stabilize the currency and rein in consumer prices. Mr. Fraga supports restrained public spending, tough inflation targeting and a floating exchange rate, policies that became known in Brazil as the “economic tripod.”

He is highly critical of the Rousseff administration’s decision slow inflation by capping gasoline prices and electricity rates, moves he dismissed as “gimmicks.” He’s also alarmed that Brazil’s central bank has been intervening regularly in the currency markets to prop up Brazil’s real against the dollar, a strategy he ridicules a “populist move.”

Mr. Fraga said these are stopgap measures that already are proving unworkable and that Brazil needs to focus on long-term fundamentals like increasing private investment and balancing its books.

The fact that earlier this year Standard & Poor downgraded Brazil´s long term bonds credit rating to one notch above junk doesn’t help Dilma – but you have to remember that, even when Dilma’s the candidate, Lula is the man to beat.