Monday, 31 December 2012

External financing and crowding out

INE has just published the Quarterly Sector Accounts for the third quarter, showing that for the first time in any quarter this century the net lending of the Portuguese economy has turned positive. In the year to 2012Q3, the net borrowing of the Portuguese economy amounted to just 1.1 billion euro, when in the year to 2011Q3 those needs amounted to 12.3 billion euro. An adjustment of 11 billion euro, or 6.7 percent of GDP, in one year, is an enormous external adjustment, and it was much higher than expected. For instance, the May 2011 IMF projections forecasted that by 2016 the Portuguese economy would still have external net borrowing of 1% of GDP. Why was Portugal's external adjustment so strong in the first year of the adjustment program?

The net lending of the Portuguese economy is equivalent to the sum of the current account and the capital account of the balance of payments. Since, by definition, the balance of payments always balances, it is also equivalent to the negative of the financial account. When there are no financing constraints, the real economy determines the financing needs, i.e. the top part of the balance of payments determines the bottom part. However, in a financing crisis, when there are strong financing constraints, the availability of financing is binding, implying that it is the bottom part of the balance of payments that determines the top part. The domestic agents must reduce their expenditure to the available financing, even if they had higher expenditure plans.

The INE data provides some evidence that financing was a binding constraint for Portuguese households. In the past, private consumption has always been smoother than disposable income, implying that in recessions consumption fell by less than disposable income, and the savings rate declined. However, this was not the case in the year up to 2012Q3. Private consumption fell by 3.4%, while disposable income fell by only 1.4%, relative to the year up to 2011Q3. While negative expectations may have played a part, this anomalous behavior is likely to have been determined by a binding financing constraint. Non financial corporations have also decreased their financing needs by 5.3 billion euro in the same period, while gross value added has fallen by 1 billion euro. It seems that the Portuguese economy has been operating under a binding external financing constraint, which is not surprising if one remembers that the immediate cause for the signing of the Financial and Economic Adjustment Program with the troika was the lack of financing for the Portuguese government and banks.

If the Portuguese economy is under a binding external financing constraint, and if the financing constraint is not specific to any domestic sector, then there is full crowding out of fiscal policy. Any increase in the public sector financing needs must be matched by a equivalent reduction in the private sector financing needs. In other words, if the external financing constraint is fully binding, the size of the budget deficit does not have any influence on domestic demand. If this is the case, then the fiscal policy that would foster private consumption and investment would be a reduction of the budget deficit. Under these circumstances, the government could reduce public expenditure as quickly as possible, in order to allow for sufficient financing to be available for the private sector, without decreasing GDP or increasing unemployment.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

information on the Portuguese economy

Students at Nova School of Business and Economics produce regularly analysis and data on the Portuguese economy, in areas connected closely with the Memorandum of Understanding, so we have now:
- a report on the Portuguese banking sector,
- a report on the Justice System,
- a report on the labour market,
- a report on the housing market

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Facts on nontradables in the Portuguese economy

The rise of nontradable sectors has been mentioned as one of the causes of low economic growth and external imbalances at the root of Portugal’s current predicament – João Ferreira do Amaral and Vítor Bento were among the first to ring that alarm bell. The ECB, the EU and the IMF (troika) seem to share the same view. The 2012 OECD Economic Survey of Portugal has also stressed the need for eliminating the distortions that tilted the Portuguese economy towards low-productivity domestically-oriented sectors. Recently, the President, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, and the Minister of the Economy, Álvaro Santos Pereira, have also been calling for the re-industrialization of the Portuguese economy.    

In a joint paper with Pedro Bação, we describe the main trends and jumps in the evolution of nontradable sectors, since the mid-1950s, using four different databases to shed light on different dimensions of this issue. From our analysis we stress the following points:

1. Despite the pattern of the growth of the share of services being similar to that observed in other developed countries, since the early 1990s it has been significantly larger than in most countries.
2. The shift to nontradables in Portugal has been fast and it occurred essentially at the expense of agriculture in the period 1953-95, and essentially at the expense of industry in the period 1995-2009.
3. In 2009, the share of nontradables (defined as the sum of services plus construction) in total GVA reached 68%, if we exclude open service sectors, and 81.1%, if we treat all service sectors as nontradable.
4. More than half of the change towards nontradables since joining the European Union took place in the period 1988-1993.
5. Finally, we show that construction and services facing a strong Government demand were the main drivers of the increasing weight of nontradables in the Portuguese economy since 1986.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

TAP: post-scriptum

I am glad and grateful that Exame Expresso and Jornal de Negócios yesterday followed up on the issue of TAP’s valuation in Gérman Efromvich's offer. They did the public interest a huge service. Mr. Efromvich’s bid was greedy, but he is pragmatic. He knows that if there is a second competitive sale process he is very unlikely to win the prize (TAP) even if he bids €2bn-€3bn and he would have to wait perhaps a year.  

He now faces a dilemma:
·         He may well try to “get the deal clinched” and “everybody happy” by offering anywhere from €500mn to €1bn (rather than €20mn). But he knows this will leave the sell side feeling like fools;
·         He may lobby in the expectation that the government powers ahead with the current offer – a real possibility with this government - , but this likely is, from his perspective, too risky a gamble;
·         He could, of course, walk away,   … but ...
·         He could also bid €2bn-€3bn and argue that the government would not get more if it decides to reopen the sale process.

So, how will this saga play out?

For the record, in my view, given the role of TAP to Portugal’s export sector, the government shouldn’t sell TAP at this point. 

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Germán Efromovich’s offer for TAP

According to Jornal de Negócios, the only bidder for the privatization of TAP has made a revised final offer to acquire TAP which, not surprisingly, is lower than the original non-binding offer since he is the only bidder for TAP. According to JN, the government is disappointed but wants to negotiate which says a lot about whoever is handling the negotiation on the Portuguese government side, as I shall argue below.

Jornal de Negócios states that the Germán Efromovich is offering to assume TAP’s debt of €1,2bn (TAP’s net debt is in fact €1,05 bn, about 60% of which concerns its fleet leasing debt) and to inject €300 mn in the company. He would then pay as little as €20 mn to the government for the (complete?) ownership of the company, but according to Jornal de Negócios he wants to pay even less than the €20mn.

Maybe there are additional details not reported by Jornal Negócios, because typically this type of acquisitions are based on EBITDA (Earnings before interest depreciation and amortization) multiples. But if Jornal de Negócios is correct, Gérman Efromovich’s bid looks very very low – TAP seems much more valuable, as I shall argue below.

Ricardo Arroja wrote a very interesting post in Insurgente about TAP’s privatization, which called my attention because he looked at the balance sheet of TAP. Thus, Ricardo Arroja’s post made me curious and I analyzed TAP’s balance sheet.

Now, first, one correction to Jornal de Negócios. Germán Efromovich is not assuming any of TAP’s debt. TAP’s balance sheet already assumes that debt, i.e., TAP has assets which are worth about €300 mn less than its liabilities (including the €1,2bn debt). Any buyer would likely keep TAP’s debt on its balance sheet since in this way the buyer can maximize the return on investment and optimize his tax bill.

Now everyone assumes that TAP is over-indebted and worries about TAP’s negative equity. But businesses do not need positive equity levels to function. What they need is positive cash flows. TAP has positive operational cash flows and EBITDA and has managed to stabilize debt levels.

More important, TAP’s debt levels do not seem high at all for a company of its dimension. TAP’s interest and leasing costs are a small fraction of the company’s total costs, which means that capital, while important, is not the key variable for TAP’s business.

Perhaps the following example will clarify my point. If TAP uses half of the €300mn capital injection proposed by Germán Efromovich to increase its working capital, and the other half to reduce its stock of debt, its financing costs would fall by about €9mn, or by about 0.4% of the company’s total costs, i.e., by a negligible amount. This signals that while further capital is helpful – and might help TAP expand or better hedge fuel cost risks - , TAP will likely be able to thrive in the future even without any capital injection.

I do not have information on TAP's most recent financial numbers. However, the 2011 balance sheet indicates that TAP is in a situation where slight operational improvements in revenues and slight decreases in costs will result in a marked improvement of its results and reflect favorably on its balance sheet. A 5% increase in revenues and a 5% decrease in operational expenditures will likely result in improvement to EBITDA of about €250 million per year, or about 70%-80% of what Germán Efromovich wants to pay for TAP.

TAP’s EBITDA in 2011 was €106mn. A purchase price based on a multiple of 10 of the 2011 EBITDA seems a fairly run of the mill (modest) valuation for the company. It would mean TAP would be worth about €1bn, which less the €300mn capital injection means a sale price of about €700 mn. But if an improvement in EBITDA of €250 million relative to the 2011 performance is assumed, then TAP would be worth €3.2bn (already net of the capital injection).

But I am likely being conservative here. Gérman Efromovich owns airline companies. This means he is likely to obtain significant synergies between his different airlines.  Greater synergies mean larger EBITDAs, which mean TAP is likely much more valuable for this entrepreneur than the €3bn I estimate above.

In my view, TAP is on course – bar unexpected shocks - to become systematically profitable in the short term. Germán Efromovich will get his investment back very quickly. He is a shrewd investor and if he succeeds in his bid he will have a very high return on his investment.

But he must be innerly laughing at the apparently “naïve” selling side (i.e., the Portuguese negotiators) who are begging him to condescend to give a few more millions of euro or even possibly willing to pay Germán  Efromovich to get rid of TAP.

Finally, TAP is one of the country’s largest exporters and plays a key role in one of the country’s leading export industries (tourism). It also is one of the main airlines for connections to Portuguese language countries in Africa and South America (CPLP), some of which are also Portugal’s fastest growing export markets. Portugal’s adjustment requires a huge improvement in external trade for the current or any other adjustment program to succeed. From a macroeconomic policy making point of view one does not want to play around casually with one of the key players in our export industry precisely at this time in History. But none of this appears to be of any relevance to our decision makers.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Banking Union and the supervision of 6000 banks

"Nobody believes it will work. Nobody believes any institution will be able to supervise 6,000 banks.” Wolfgang Schauble, Germany’s finance minister, FT 2012
"Our specific responsibilities include the oversight of about 5,000 bank holding companies, including the umbrella supervision of large, complex financial firms; the supervision of about 850 banks nationwide that are both state-chartered and members of the Federal Reserve System (state member banks); and the oversight of foreign banking organizations operating in the United States."Chairman Ben S. Bernanke,The Federal Reserve's role in bank supervision, Before the Committee on Financial Services, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. March 17, 2010
I concede that 6000 > 5850. Not that 6000 >>> 5850.

Question: how many Polish banks are...Polish?

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Portugal and the welfare state, step 1

A recent article in the Financial Times (Portugal grapples with cost of welfare state) addressed recent statements by the prime minister on the reforms in the public sector.
The starting point was the statement a couple of weeks by the minister of finance on the (apparent) difference between what people want to pay in taxes and the welfare state benefits they want.
The discussion on the role and size of the state and how it is funded (and not the components of the welfare state) is a much needed debate in Portugal. But it cannot be done until February or March if it is  supposed to include the views and desires of the Portuguese population and if its to go beyond cut expenditures across the board.
The challenge for the discussion is how to be cut in terms of what the Government does - not only the always-mentioned quest for efficiency in Government provision of services but also which ones are to be provided by the Government.
This goes beyond knowing which charges people should pay when using Government services. And forces the need for clarification of concepts and roles of Government spending. One the more common errors of perception, which is also present in the financial times article, is people saying they could afford to pay more for health care at point of use - meaning usually that people accept income-based payments at the point of use. Fine. But the mistake is that such charges are usually a very small portion of total funding required, user charges account for less then 2% of total funding needs in the National Health Service. Increasing user charges to cover say 20% would probably lead most people to complain about it. Even the largest single user charge, use of emergency room in central hospitals, is about 10% (or less) of average cost of such episode - this is 20€ user charge mentioned in the FT article. The second aspect of this mistake is conceptual - redistribution  should mainly be done at the funding level, not at the point of use. If there is some correlation between income and need of health care (use), then payments at the point of use according to income may help, but they also destroy the insurance value of protection against uncertainty of health care expenditures. And this role is neglected (wrongly) in most popular statements.
From other areas we are likely to face good arguments for Government intervention, meaning that a careful discussion needs to be made.
Recognizing the importance of this discussion the prime minister said that a baseline proposal for cuts will be provided by February but changes are possible until the Summer, before the next budget proposal is built. This is reasonable. Sets a default situation, and then it is up to the political forces and to society to improve on it. Being too assertive at this stage will not allow for a proper discussion. Let's hope the Portuguese people can do it.