Tag: debt-servicing

With all the concerns recently about Greek and Italian debt and about the whole future of the eurozone, you would be forgiven for thinking that the problems of the UK economy had gone away. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Problems are mounting and pessimism is growing.

First there is the problem of a contracting eurozone economy. This will directly impact on the UK as almost half of UK exports go to eurozone countries. Second there is the impact of the government expenditure cuts, most of which have still not taken effect yet. Third there is the fact that, with the combination of inflation over 5% and nominal pay typically rising by no more than 2%, real take-home pay is falling and hence too is the volume of consumer expenditure. Fourth, there is the increasingly pessimistic mood of consumers and business. The more pessimistic people become about the prospects for their jobs and incomes, the more people will rein in their spending; the more pessimistic businesses become, the more they will cut back on investment and economise on stock holding.

Forecasts for the UK economy have become considerably bleaker over the past few weeks. These include forecasts by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), the accountancy network BDO, Ernst & Young’s ITEM Club and the CBI in its SME Trends Survey and November Economic Forecast. The Treasury’s latest Forecasts for the UK Economy, which brings together forecasts by 29 different organisations, also shows a marked increase in pessimism from September to October.

So is it now time for the government to change course to prevent the economy slipping back into recession? Do we need a Plan B? Certainly, it’s something we’ve considered before on this news site (see Time for a Plan B?). The latest call has come from a group of 100 leading academic economists who have written to the Observer. In their letter they spell out what such a plan should contain. You’ll find a link to the letter below and to other articles considering the proposals.

The letter
We economists have a Plan B that will work, Mr Osborne Observer letters (29/10/11)

Articles
Plan B: the ideas designed to restart a stalled UK economy Observer, Daniel Boffey and Heather Stewart (29/10/11)
Plan B could have been even more aggressive, but it would definitely work Observer, Will Hutton (29/10/11)
The economy: we need Plan B and we need it now Observer editorial (30/10/11)
If tomorrow’s growth figures disappoint, Plan B will be a step closer, whatever David Cameron says The Telegraph, Daniel Knowles (31/10/11)
Plan B to escape the mess we are in Compass, John Weeks (7/11/11)

The report
Plan B; a good economy for a good society Compass, Edited by Howard Reed and Neal Lawson (31/10/11)

Questions

  1. What are the main proposals in Compass’s Plan B?
  2. How practical are these proposals?
  3. Without a Plan B, what is likely to happen to the UK economy over (a) the coming 12 months; (b) the next 3 years?
  4. Why might sticking to Plan A worsen the public-sector deficit – at least in the short term?
  5. What are the main arguments for sticking to Plan A and not easing up on deficit reduction?
  6. Find out what proportion of the UK’s debt is owed to non-UK residents? (See data published by the UK’s Debt Management Office (DMO).) How does this proportion and the average length of UK debt affect the arguments about the sustainability of this level of debt and the ease of servicing it?
  7. If you had to devise a Plan B, what would it look like and why? To what extent would it differ from Compass’s Plan B and from George Osborne’s “Plan A”?

The debts of many countries in the eurozone are becoming increasingly difficult to service. With negative growth in some countries (Greece’s GDP is set to decline by over 5% this year) and falling growth rates in others, the outlook is becoming worse: tax revenues are likely to fall and benefit payments are likely to increase as automatic fiscal stabilisers take effect. In the light of these difficulties, market rates of interest on sovereign debt in these countries have been increasing.

Talk of default has got louder. If Greece cannot service its public-sector debt, currently standing at around 150% of GDP (way above the 60% ceiling set in the Stability and Growth Pact), then simply lending it more will merely delay the problem. Ultimately, if it cannot grow its way out of the debt, then either it must receive a fiscal transfer from the rest of the eurozone, or part of its debts must be cancelled or radically rescheduled.

But Greece is a small country, and relative to the size of the whole eurozone’s GDP, its debt is tiny. Italy is another matter. It’s public-sector debt to GDP ratio, at around 120% is lower than Greece’s, but the level of debt is much higher: $2 trillion compared with Greece’s $480 billion. Increasingly banks are becoming worried about their exposure to Italian debt – both public- and private-sector debt.

As we saw in the news item “The brutal face of supply and demand”, stock markets have been plummeting because of the growing fears about debts in the eurozone. And these fears have been particularly focused on banks with high levels of exposure to these debts. French banks are particularly vulnerable. Indeed, Credit Agricole and Société Générale, France’s second and third largest banks, had their creidit ratings cut by Moody’s rating agency. They have both seen their share prices fall dramatically this year: 46% and 55% respectively.

Central banks have been becoming increasingly concerned that the sovereign debt crisis in various eurozone countries will turn into a new banking crisis. In an attempt to calm markets and help ease the problem for banks, five central banks – the Federal Reserve, the ECB, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan and the Swiss National Bank – announced on 15 September that they would co-operate to offer three-month US dollar loans to commercial banks. They would provide as much liquidity as was necessary to ease any funding difficulties.

The effect of this action calmed the markets and share prices in Europe and around the world rose substantially. But was this enough to stave off a new banking crisis? And did it do anything to ease the sovereign debt crisis and the problems of the eurozone? The following articles explore these questions.

Articles
Central banks expand dollar operations Reuters, Sakari Suoninen and Marc Jones (15/9/11)
Europe’s debt crisis prompts central banks to provide dollar liquidity Guardian, Larry Elliott and Dominic Rushe (15/9/11)
From euro zone to battle zone Sydney Morning Herald, Michael Evans (17/9/11)
Global shares rise on central banks’ loan move BBC News (16/9/11)
Geithner warns EU against infighting over Greece BBC News (16/9/11)
How The European Debt Crisis Could Spread npr (USA), Marilyn Geewax (15/9/11)
No Marshall Plan for Europe National Post (Canada) (16/9/11)
Central banks act to help Europe lenders Financial Times, Ralph Atkins, Richard Milne and Alex Barker (15/9/11)
Central Banks Seeking Quick Fix Push Dollar Cost to August Lows Bloomberg Businesweek, John Glover and Ben Martin (15/9/11)
Central banks act to provide euro zone dollar liquidity Irish Times (15/9/11)
Central banks pump money into market: what the analysts say The Telegraph (15/9/11)
Central banks and the ‘spirit of 2008’ BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (15/9/11)

Central Bank statements
News Release: Additional US dollar liquidity-providing operations over year-end Bank of England (15/9/11)
Press Release: ECB announces additional US dollar liquidity-providing operations over year-end ECB (15/9/11)
Additional schedule for U.S. Dollar Funds-Supplying Operations Bank of Japan (15/9/11)
Central banks to extend provision of US dollar liquidity Swiss National Bank (15/9/11)

Questions

  1. Explain what is meant by debt servicing.
  2. How may the concerted actions of the five central banks help the banking sector?
  3. Distinguish between liquidity and capital. Is supplying extra liquidity a suitable means of coping with the difficulties of countries in servicing their debts?
  4. If Greece cannot service its debts, what options are open to (a) Greece itself; (b) international institutions and governments?
  5. In what ways are the eurozone countries collectively in a better economic and financial state than the USA?
  6. Is the best solution to the eurozone crisis to achieve greater fiscal harmonisation?
  7. What are the weaknesses of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) as currently constituted? Should it be turned into a bank or special credit institution taking the role of a ‘European Monetary Fund’?
  8. Should countries in the eurozone be able to issue eurobonds?

In the aftermath of the credit crunch and the recession, many banks had to be bailed out by central banks and some, such as Northern Rock and RBS, were wholly or partially nationalised. Tougher regulations to ensure greater liquidity and higher proportions of capital to total liabilities have been put in place and further regulation is being planned in many countries.

So are banks now able to withstand future shocks?

In recent months, new threats to banks have emerged. The first is the prospect of a double-dip recession as many countries tighten fiscal policy in order to claw down debts and as consumer and business confidence falls. The second is the concern about banks’ exposure to sovereign debt: i.e. their holding of government bonds and other securities. If there is a risk that countries might default on their debts, then banks would suffer and confidence in the banking system could plummet, triggering a further banking crisis. With worries that countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland might have problems in servicing their debt, and with the downgrading of these countries by rating agencies, this second problem has become more acute for banks with large exposure to the debt of these and similar countries.

To help get a measure of the extent of the problem and, hopefully, to reassure markets, the Committee of European Banking Supervisors (CEBS) has been conducting ‘stress tests’ on European banks. On 24 July, it published its findings. The following articles look at these tests and the findings and assess whether the tests were rigorous enough.

Articles
Bank balance: EU stress tests explained Financial Times, Patrick Jenkins, Emily Cadman and Steve Bernard (13/7/10)
Seven EU banks fail stress test healthchecks BBC News, Robert Peston (23/7/10)
Interactive: EU stress test results by bank Financial Times, Emily Cadman, Steve Bernard, Johanna Kassel and Patrick Jenkin (23/7/10)
Q&A: What are the European bank stress tests for? BBC News (23/7/10)
Europe’s Stress-Free Stress Test Fails to Make the Grade Der Spiegel (26/7/10)
A test cynically calibrated to fix the result Financial Times, Wolfgang Münchau (25/7/10)
Europe confronts banking gremlins Financial Times (23/7/10)
Leading article: Stressful times continue Independent (26/7/10)
Europe’s banking check-up Aljazeera, Samah El-Shahat (26/7/10)
Finance: Stressed but blessed Financial Times, Patrick Jenkins (25/7/10)
Were stress test rigorous enough? BBC Today Programme, Ben Shore (24/7/10)
Banks’ stress test ‘very wooly’ BBC Today Programme, Peter Hahn and Graham Turner(24/7/10)
Stress test whitewash of European banks World Socialist Web Site, Stefan Steinberg (26/7/10)
Stress tests: Not many dead BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (23/7/10)
Not much stress, not much test Reuters, Laurence Copeland (23/7/10)
Stress-testing Europe’s banks won’t stave off a deflationary vortex Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (18/7/10)
European banking shares rise after stress tests BBC News (26/7/10)
Euro banks pass test, gold falls CommodityOnline, Geena Paul (26/7/10)

Report
2010 EU-wide Stress Testing: portal page to documents CEBS

Questions

  1. Explain what is meant by a bank stress test?
  2. What particular scenarios were tested for in the European bank stress tests?
  3. Assess whether the tests were appropriate? Were they too easy to pass?
  4. What effect did the results of the stress tests have on gold prices? Explain why (see final article above).
  5. What stresses are banks likely to face in the coming months? If they run into difficulties as a result, what would be the likely reaction of central banks? Would there be a moral hazard here? Explain.

As the news item, A Greek tragedy reported, the level of debt in Greece and also in Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Italy, has caused worries, not just for their creditors, but also for the whole eurozone. Here we give you the opportunity to listen to a podcast from the Guardian in which some of the paper’s main economic columnists, along with Observer commentator, William Keegan, discuss the effects of this debt on the euro. To quote the introduction to the podcast:

“In Brussels, European leaders have pledged ‘determined and co-ordinated’ action to help Greece – they won’t let it fail. Our Europe editor Ian Traynor says the announcement of a deal was designed to keep the markets happy.

But leaders of wealthier euro nations like Germany are hoping they won’t have to ask their voters to bail Greece out. Kate Connolly, our Berlin correspondent, explains why Germans are so reluctant to provide financial assistance.

It’s being seen as a defining moment for the euro. Economics editor Larry Elliott says not signing Britain up to the single currency was the best decision Gordon Brown ever made.”

The debt crisis facing the Euro Guardian daily podcast (12/2/10)

Questions

  1. To what extent is Greece’s debt a problem for the whole eurozone?
  2. Consider the arguments for and against bailing Greece out (a) by stronger eurozone countries, such as Germany and France; (b) by the IMF.
  3. What support for Greece would minimise the problem of moral hazard?
  4. How would you set about establishing whether the current eurozone is an optimal currency area?
  5. How do the current problems of debt affect the arguments about whether Britain should adopt the euro?

The most popular sport in the world: football. What else?! Huge games and salaries to match. But is it really as glamorous as we think? We may see some top players receiving a salary per week that most people can’t hope to come close to in a year, but players at Portsmouth have had to go without their wages on three occasions, as the club entered financial strife. It is these high salaries that prevent many clubs from breaking even, let alone making a profit. Whilst a lack of salary to footballers is a rare occurence, the football industry isn’t the money-churning machine that it appears to be.

We’re used to seeing full stadia and fans decked out in their club’s regalia, so surely football clubs are awash with money? But things aren’t so rosy. Research published by the Centre for the International Business of Sport at Coventry University in 2008 revealed that clubs in the top four tiers of English football between the 2001/2 and 2005/6 seasons made an aggregated loss of more than £1bn. In addition, 56 clubs in the English leagues went bankrupt between the Insolvency Act’s introduction in 1986 and June 2008.

We’ve seen a number of buyouts of clubs in recent years by extremely wealthy families. The Glazer family bought Manchester United in 2005, yet this buyout and many others are heavily leveraged and servicing their debts is now proving a problem. Whilst some clubs publish annual profits, it doesn’t mean they are without debt. Manchester United, defending champions of the English football league, earned profits of £48.2 million in the 2008/9 season, but its debts are estimated at around £700 million. The club received a loan of £509.5 million and had to pay £41.9 million in interest.

The owners of Chelsea and Manchester City have recently converted £340 million and £304.9 million of loans into equity respectively. Financiers, however, say this is simply “moving money from their left pocket to the right”. Manchester City reported a massive loss of £92.6 million for the 2008/9 financial year. Unfortunately for them, these figures ignore outlays since May 2009 for Carlos Tevez, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor. Portsmouth’s £7 million share of TV revenue has been diverted directly to other clubs to whom they owe money for transfers.

So, how much of a money-maker is football? Well stadia are still full and it’s certainly growing in popularity in Asia. Premier teams are now appreciating how much money can be made out there by selling television rights. However, in 2008 the FA chairman Lord Triesman still estimated that English football debts stood at £3bn. With all this debt, are there any positives? Just one – at least it’s less than the UK’s public debt!

Abu-Dhabi family reduce debt for Manchester City Campden FB (7/1/10)
Manchester City post massive loss BBC News (6/1/10)
What a waste of money – the Premier League’s best paid flops Guardian, Jamie Jackson (10/1/10)
Portsmouth players still not paid as Premier League expresses concern at crisis Telegraph, Paul Kelso (6/1/10)
Paying by the rules The Lawyer, Adam Plainer (11/1/10)
Jacob unimpressed by fan protests Press Association (11/1/09)
Cardiff City to face winding up order BBC Sport (8/1/10)
Debt swap is ‘window dressing’ The Independent, Nick Clark (7/1/10)
Manchester United aim to raise £500m in bond sale in bid to reduce mounting debt Telegraph, Mark Ogden (11/1/10)
Chelsea debt wiped off by Roman Abramovich but club still record loss Telegraph (30/12/09)
Manchester United to raise £500m BBC News (11/1/10)
Cristiano Ronaldo saves Man-Utd – Again Sky News (11/1/10)
Tony Fernandes and David Sullivan vie for control of West Ham Telegraph, Jason Burt (16/1/10)
One thing at Manchester United isn’t going downhill – their debt Guardian, David Conn (6/1/10)
Premier League looks to cash in on Asia BBC News, Guy de Launey (29/12/09)

Questions

  1. Why do footballers receive such high wages? Illustrate why wages in the Premier League are so much higher than those received by players in non-league teams. What’s the key factor?
  2. What is debt swapping?
  3. In the Independent article: ‘Dept swap is Window dressing’, what does it mean by (a) window dressing and (b) debt swap is ‘moving money from their left pocket to the right’?
  4. How can a club such as Manchester United record a profit, but have substantial debts?
  5. What is leveraging and why is it a problem for some football teams?
  6. How will an issue of bonds enable a football club to refinance its debt?
  7. What opportunities does Asia present to English football?