France and Italy: The ABCs of the European fiscal framework

Barcelona GSE grad Alvaro Leandro looks at the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact through the lens of the draft budget plans of France and Italy.

alumniThe following post by Alvaro Leandro (ITFD’13 and Economics ’14) has been previously published by Bruegel.

Mr. Leandro is Research Assistant at Bruegel in Brussels, Belgium.

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The EU’s fiscal framework, the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP), is a complicated system of fiscal rules. Rather than trying to assess the virtues and failures of the SGP, this blogpost aims at understanding its complex rules through the lens of the draft budget plans of France and Italy. France is in the corrective arm of the SGP, while Italy is now in the preventive arm, which allows the examination of various SGP requirements, such as the

  • structural balance pillar,
  • expenditure balance pillar,
  • and the debt criterion

which apply to countries in the preventive arm (like Italy), and the

  • headline budget deficit criterion,
  • the structural balance criterion,
  • and the cumulative structural balance criterion

which apply to countries in the corrective arm (like France). We also discuss the rules regarding financial sanctions.

On 28 November 2014, the European Commission released its opinions on the euro area Member States’ Draft Budgetary Plans for 2015. The purpose of these opinions is to assess each country’s compliance with the SGP, and to recommend appropriate action if there are risks of non-compliance.

Both Italy and France are “at risk of non-compliance with the provisions of the Stability and Growth Pact”

One of the surprises was that, in the case of Italy and France (as well as Belgium), the Commission decided to postpone its recommendations until March 2015, “in the light of the finalisation of the budget laws and the expected specification of the structural reform programmes announced by the authorities“. Both Italy and France are “at risk of non-compliance with the provisions of the Stability and Growth Pact”, according to the Commission.

The Framework

The Stability and Growth Pact is composed of a preventive and a corrective arm. The corrective arm is called the Excessive Deficit Procedure (EDP), which is triggered for countries with a general government deficit larger than 3 percent of GDP or with debt larger than 60 percent of GDP not being reduced at a satisfactory pace. France is currently under the corrective arm and Italy was as well until 2013. Italy is therefore now subject to the rules of the preventive arm.

Source: Country Stability and Convergence Programmes for MTOs, AMECO for forecast of 2014 and 2015 Structural Balances

Notes: Data labels are for the MTOs. According to the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance (TSCG), signed by all euro area members in March 2012, all signatory Member States must have an MTO higher than -0.5% of GDP (or -1% for countries with a debt/GDP ratio lower than 60%). The “fiscal” part of the TSCG is often called the ‘Fiscal Compact’.

The fundamental variables used to assess compliance with the preventive arm of the SGP are the country-specific medium-term budgetary objectives (MTOs), which are defined as structural balances (a measure of the government budget balance adjusted for the economic cycle and one-off revenue and expenditure items; this blogpost by Zsolt Darvas explains the estimation methodology and why it has some drawbacks). MTOs are chosen by each Member State following strict guidelines set out by the Commission, in order to ensure sustainability in its public finances (a higher MTO is required from countries with a high debt ratio or with a rapidly-ageing population faced with increasing age related expenditure for example, while the ‘Fiscal Compact’ limits the MTO for euro area member states, see the notes to Figure 1). A few examples of MTOs can be found in Figure 1: France, Italy and Spain have an MTO of 0 percent of GDP, while Germany’s MTO is -0.5 percent. This means that in the case of Germany, for example, a structural deficit of 0.5 percent of GDP is deemed enough to ensure the sustainability of its public finances.

The Fiscal Compact is not binding for non-euro area Member States, which therefore have more freedom in setting their MTOs. For example, Hungary has an MTO of -1.7 percent, the Polish and Swedish MTO is -1 percent, while it is zero for the United Kingdom.

To comply with the preventive arm of the SGP, all Member States must be at their MTOs or be on a path to reach them, with an annual improvement of their structural balance of 0.5 percent of GDP towards the MTO as a benchmark.

A higher effort might be required for countries with high debt/GDP ratios and pronounced risks to overall debt sustainability. A higher effort is also required in good economic times, and a lower effort in economic downturns. A Member State could also be allowed to deviate from the adjustments if it experiences “an unusual event outside its control with a major impact on the financial position of the general government”.

Therefore compliance with the preventive arm is not defined by the Member State’s structural balance, but by its path towards the MTO.

Italy

Structural balance pillar: Table 1 shows the recommended path for Italy. On the 28th of November 2014 the Commission decided that “severe economic conditions” (namely a real GDP contraction and a large negative output gap: see Table 3) justified that Italy is not required to adjust its structural balance towards the MTO by the 0.5 percent of GDP benchmark in 2014. This is why the required change in the structural balance for 2014 is 0. Italy had originally planned a large correction of its structural budget for 2014 in its 2013 Stability Program, of 0.7 percentage points. In its Draft Budget Plan for 2014 Italy revised this adjustment to 0.3. Finally it invoked Article 5 of Regulation 1175/2011 in its 2014 Stability Program which allows a deviation from the required adjustment “in the case of an unusual event outside the control of the Member State concerned which has a major impact on the financial position of the general government”. The required adjustment is also 0 in 2013 for the same reason: negative real output growth makes Italy eligible to the escape clause. In 2015 real GDP is forecast by the Commission to increase by 0.6 (see Table 3), which means that Italy can no longer apply for the escape clause regarding economic downturns.

Source: Commission Staff Working Document: Analysis of the draft budgetary plan of Italy (28 November 2014), European Commission Autumn Forecast (November 2014), Italy’s Stability Programme April 2014, Italy’s Stability Programme April 2013, Vade Mecum on the Stability and Growth Pact (May 2013)

Note: ΔSB denotes the percentage point change in the structural balance. MLSA: minimum linear structural adjustment. DBP: draft budget plan

(1): Deviation of the growth rate of public expenditure net of discretionary revenue measures and revenue increases mandated by law from the applicable reference rate in terms of the effect on the structural balance. A negative sign implies that expenditure growth exceeds the applicable reference rate.

Table 1: Italy’s compliance with the preventive arm and the debt criterion
Concretely, Italy’s medium-term budgetary objective is a structural balance of 0 percent of GDP, whereas the European Commission forecasts a structural balance of -0.8 percent of GDP in 2015. Thus Italy is required to adjust its structural balance towards its MTO by 0.5 percentage points of GDP (while a higher adjustment than 0.5 is required for countries with debt exceeding 60 percent of GDP, a lower effort is allowed in economic “bad times”). The forecast adjustment from 2014 to 2015 is of 0.1 pp. according to the Commission (taking account of additional measures announced on 27 October), which is considered to pose a risk of “significant deviation from the required adjustment”.

Expenditure balance pillar: Member States in the preventive arm of the SGP also have to comply with the expenditure benchmark pillar, which complements the structural balance pillar. It requires countries that are not at their MTO to contain the growth rate of expenditure net of discretionary revenue measures to a country-specific rate below that of its medium-term potential GDP growth. This medium-term potential GDP growth is calculated as a 10-year average (of the 5 preceding years, the current year and forecasts for the next 4 years), and in the case of Italy it is 0 percent in 2014 and 2015. Had Italy been at its MTO it would have had to contain net expenditure growth to 0 percent. However, not being at its MTO, it is required to contain net expenditure growth to a reference rate below medium-term potential GDP growth: -1.1 percent in 2015 (which is calculated so that it is consistent with a tightening of the budget balance of 0.5 percent of GDP when GDP grows at its potential rate). The applicable reference rate in 2014 is 0 because of the “severe economic conditions”. In 2013 the applicable reference rate was 0.3, which is different to that in 2014 and 2015 because it is revised every three years. The commission allows one-year and two-year average deviations of a maximum of 0.5 pp of GDP in terms of their impact on the structural balance. In 2015 the deviation in terms of its effect on the structural balance is forecast to be of 0.7 pp. of GDP, which is a deviation larger than the allowed 0.5 pp.

Debt Criterion: Countries which have recently left the EDP are subject to a 3-year transition period aimed at ensuring that the debt level is being reduced at an acceptable pace. Italy is in such a transition period, since it left the EDP in 2013. It is thus subject to required medium-term linear structural adjustments (MLSAs) aimed at ensuring that it will comply with the debt criterion. These MLSAs are formulated in terms of adjustments to the structural balance. Since Italy is in the preventive arm and therefore also subject to required adjustments towards the MTO, the largest one is applicable. The 2.5 pp. MLSA in 2015 (larger than the 0.5 pp. required change under the preventive arm) is at serious risk of not being met according to Commission forecasts. This violation of the debt criterion could lead to a reopening of the Excessive Deficit Procedure.

Commission’s view: In its opinion on Italy’s Draft Budget Plan released at the end of November 2014, the Commission points to risks of non-compliance with the requirements of the SGP, and “invites the authorities to take the necessary measures […] to ensure that the 2015 budget will be compliant with the Stability and Growth Pact”. It then says that “The Commission is also of the opinion that Italy has made some progress with regard to the structural part of the fiscal recommendations issued by the Council in the context of the 2014 European Semester and invites the authorities to make further progress. In this context, policies fostering growth prospects, keeping current primary expenditure under strict control while increasing the overall efficiency of public spending, as well as the planned privatisations, would contribute to bring the debt-to-GDP ratio on a declining path consistent with the debt rule over the coming years.”

France

Once a country has been identified as having an excessive deficit, which was the case for France in 2009, it is turned over to the corrective arm, the EDP, the purpose of which is to correct such a deficit.

Headline budget deficit criterion: Once a country has been identified as having an excessive deficit, which was the case for France in 2009, it is turned over to the corrective arm, the EDP, the purpose of which is to correct such a deficit. France has now been under the EDP for 5 consecutive years, and is subject to requirements set out in the latest Council recommendation to end the excessive deficit situation (June 2013). The recommendation released in 2009 originally planned a correction of the deficit (below 3 percent) by 2012, which was then postponed to 2013 in view of the actions taken and the “unexpected adverse economic events with major unfavourable consequences for government finances”. In June 2013, the Council again postponed the correction of the deficit to 2015 for the same reasons: France fell slightly short of the required 1 percent average annual fiscal effort for the period 2010-2013 (the actual average annual fiscal effort was 0.9 percent), but this was again against a backdrop of “unexpected adverse economic events”.

Source: Commission Staff Working Document: Analysis of the draft budgetary plan of France (November 28, 2014), Council recommendation to end the excessive deficit situation (June 2013), European Commission Autumn Forecast (November 2014)

Note: ΔSB denotes the percentage point change in the structural balance

Table 2: France’s compliance with the corrective arm


The latest Council recommendation (June 2013) sets out a path for France’s headline government balance, which you can see in Table 2. By 2015, the headline balance should be reduced to -2.8 percent of GDP. The forecast headline balance of -4.5 percent falls significantly short of this requirement.

Structural balance criteria: Additionally the adjusted change in the structural balance from 2014 to 2015 is forecast to be of 0.0 pp., and its cumulative change from 2012 to 2015 is forecast to be 1.6 pp., falling short of the requirements of 0.8 pp. and 2.9 pp. respectively (1). The structural budget also deviates from the requirements for 2014.

Commission’s view: Thus France is “at a risk of non-compliance” with the SGP, and, contrary to Italy, the Commission “is also of the opinion that France has made limited progress with regard to the structural part of the fiscal recommendations issued by the Council […] and thus invites the authorities to accelerate implementation”. In his letter to the President of the European Commission, France reiterated its determination to go ahead with reforms, most notably in the labour market. It remains to be seen whether progress by March 2015 will be assessed to be sufficient by the Commission.

Source: European Commission Autumn Forecast (November 2014), AMECO database (November 2014)

(*): year-on-year percentage changes

(**): as a percentage of potential GDP

Table 3: France and Italy: main macroeconomic indicators in 2014 and 2015

Sanctions

Non-compliance with the SGP can lead to sanctions. In the preventive arm, a Council recommendation which is not respected can lead to an interest-bearing deposit of 0.2 percent of GDP. A euro-area country in the corrective arm of the SGP may be required to make a non-interest bearing deposit until the deficit has been corrected, after which it can also be sanctioned with a fine worth up to 0.5 percent of GDP (with a fixed component of 0.2 percent of GDP and a variable component (2)). France and Italy are both at a risk of non-compliance with the requirements of the SGP. Failure to meet the required efforts in terms of fiscal consolidation and structural reforms by March 2015 could bring them closer to possible sanctions, unless the flexibility of the SGP is stretched further. Recent growth and inflationary figures suggest continued weak economic activity, and if economic data of 2014 qualified for “severe economic conditions”, 2015 may qualify too, especially if growth and inflation will disappoint relative to the November 2014 ECFIN forecasts. And in the preventive arm, structural reforms which have a verifiable positive impact on the long-term sustainability of public finances (such as by raising potential growth) could be considered when assessing the adjustment path to the medium-term objective.

Notes:

(1) The adjusted changes in the structural balance correct for the negative impact of the changeover to ESA 2010 as well as for changes in potential growth and revenue windfalls/shortfalls.

(2) This variable component is equal to “a tenth of the absolute value of the difference between the balance as a percentage of GDP in the preceding year and either the reference value for government balance, or, if non-compliance with budgetary discipline includes the debt criterion, the government balance as a percentage of GDP that should have been achieved in the same year according to the notice issued”

Is it ethical that soccer players earn more than doctors?

Post by Nadim Elayan, current student in the Barcelona GSE’s Master Program in International Trade, Finance and Development. Follow him on Twitter @Nadim1306.


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It is unethical that 20-year-old guys with no studies whatsoever earn 20 million euros a year by just kicking a ball during one hour and a half once a week whereas doctors who have studied almost an entire decade and save human lives every day earn 500 times less.

A fair society should compensate with higher wages people who save human lives than people that entertain us during the weekends.

How can we stand by watching soccer players earning millions a year while there are people starving in the same country?

Most of us will have probably heard these sentences or similar ones regarding the large wages that soccer players earn and even that this situation is immoral or a bad incentive for kids to have a good education. But is this true? Do soccer players actually earn more than doctors?

Before analyzing the Spanish soccer labor market or discussing the ethical implications of this situation we need first to say that this is not true. The fact that we can name some players with shockingly salaries it does not mean that on average soccer players earn more than doctors, or even more than the average salary of a specific country. In order to compare professions we need a non-biased sample. We cannot look at the best soccer player in the whole history, Lionel Messi, and compare his salary with a regular doctor in Barcelona and then conclude that soccer players earn 500 times more than doctors. This situation would be the same as looking at Yao Ming, a Chinese basketball player with a height of 7.6 feet (2.29 meters) and a weight of 310 pounds (141 kg) and wrongly concluding that Chinese people are 2 feet taller (0.6 meters) and they weigh 130 pounds (59 kg) more than the average European citizen. Thus Lionel Messi is not the best representative of soccer players’ earnings terms as Yao Ming is not the best representative of the Chinese citizen in physical terms.

In Spain there are more than 700,000 professional and amateur soccer players according to the Real Federación Española de Fútbol and most of them work without a salary or earning below the minimum wage and that is why most of them need another job. There are about 500 players earning on average a wage of 1,336,250.32€ a year, the ones playing in the First Division and also about 500 players earning a wage below 200,000€ on average, the ones playing in the Second Division[1]. So in total we can count that within Spain there are only around 1000 players earning a salary way above the salary an average doctor earns, which in Spain is 64,424.66€[2] on average.

We would have also to take into account that the soccer professional life is barely higher than 10 years while the doctor’s one would be around 35 to 40 years. All this without considering the high risk of injury a soccer player faces every day that would leave him without any salary at all the rest of his life. But of course on the other hand soccer players work no more than 15 hours a week on average and therefore the wage for this .14% gets even larger if calculated per hour. So in order to compensate for the differences in professional lives we should observe that soccer players would earn at least 3.5 to 4 times more than doctors.

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Table 1. Source: OCDE and El Pais.

We can see that these 1,000 players, .14% out of the total, earn way more than doctors on average but the next group of professional players who earn the most are the ones playing in 2nd B Division. There are 2,000 players in this Division earning on average 35,000€, what is actually less than doctors, but the hourly wage would still be above, 55.55€ per hour. If we go further away focusing in the ones playing in 3rd Division their hourly wage is 14.44€ already below the doctors one.

Summing up .14% out of total soccer players earn a salary way above the doctors’ average that more than compensates their shorter professional life. The next .28% still earns a higher hourly wage than doctors’ average but not enough to compensate their shorter professional life. So the rest 99.58% of the soccer players do not earn more than the average salary of a doctor. Actually most of them do not earn anything and some of them earn a little bit if they are in the starting line-up or for each victory.

Once showed that the average soccer player does not earn more than the average doctor, not even more than the minimum wage, we will analyze the soccer labor market and try to explain why this 0.14% earn so much money.

Analyzing the soccer labor market

First we will focus on the soccer labor demand. It is extremely high for very low values of labor hired, so for the first soccer players in the First Division and even for the Second Division. It is easy to show this by noticing that European societies are willing to fill 50 to 90 thousand people stadiums more than 30 times a year at prices between 20€ and 200€ per person each game. Therefore demand is huge. But for higher levels of labor hired, so 2nd Division B, 3rd Division and following Divisions the labor demand is very low and close to 0. Usually these games are free attendance or paying a type of mandatory lottery participation.

chart

Now we can talk about the labor supply. In this case we can separate it into 2 subgroups. For simplicity we just divide the market in 2 subgroups, the first is composed by the 1000 soccer players playing in First or Second Division and the rest of the players. Even when considering perfect inelastic labor supplies we see very high wages for the first subgroup due to the high labor demand and also due to the very scarce labor supply of this type. Whereas for the second subgroup the wages are extremely low, almost 0, because of the low labor demand and the extremely high labor supply.

Ethical implications

People think constantly about soccer, they fill large stadiums paying really high prices and spend almost 100€ a year to buy the newest shirt of their team. Furthermore between 20 and 60 percent of total TV spectators watch Champions League games in prime time and even watch TV programs and listen radio programs that only talk about soccer… In conclusion people spend a large fraction of their income and time on soccer. Is it unethical that a large fraction of this cake is sent to workers via wages?

If we think that this 0.14% of total soccer players earn too much we should then say where we send this money generated by them. Would it be more ethical to let billionaire soccer teams owners to keep a larger fraction instead? In a non-profit Solow Economy, total output goes to capital and labor, therefore , high output will translate into high wages (for one club L=25, so very low). For example in F.C. Barcelona the season 2014-2015 has spent 509 million € in total and 288.9 million € of them only in players’ wages. So 56.76% of total expenditure goes to their soccer players[3].

Secondly if we speak about fairness we should want a society that creates only inequality from people who had the same life opportunities but they succeeded and managed to highlight in their respective fields and dislike inequalities coming from differences in opportunities. Since playing soccer is not expensive, all kids can play it everywhere and the best clubs, knowing this, have scouters all over the world. This makes this labor market pretty competitive, almost every kid at age 12 has at least tried once to get in F.C. Barcelona or Real Madrid through many tests these clubs organize everywhere. Thus, the kids who finally succeed must have been better than almost every kid of their age in the planet. All this combined make the differences in wages created be explained by differences in talent and effort no matter the race, family’s economic status or better education opportunities. In fact, most of the best soccer players like Pelé, Maradona, Ronaldinho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Samuel Eto’o, so also the ones earning high wages, come from very poor families.

Lastly the fact that there are people starving in a country has nothing to do with the fact that there are soccer players earning large wages because this is determined by a very large labor demand and a very scarce labor supply for this very specific First and Second Division players. The labor demand is determined by the society’s taste so we should blame this taste if we think that the amount of money generated by soccer is disproportionately huge and instead we should allocate this exact amount of time and income to fight hunger and other problems we find more relevant.


 

[1] Every team posts their wage budget annually. These values are obtained by dividing the total wage budget over the total players in that division.

[2] Source: OECD

[3] Source: fcbarcelona.com and Europa Press.


 

Monitoring the Spanish Economy: “Spain’s response to EC and OECD economic policy recommendations”

alumniVíctor Burguete ’11 (International Trade, Finance and Development) is an Economic Researcher and Public Policy Analyst at IESE’s Public-Private Sector Research Center (IESE-PPSRC) in Barcelona. In this post, he shares the process of preparing a policy brief on Spanish policy reforms and provides an overview of the brief’s findings.


Preparing a Policy Brief like this took me over a month. It is necessary to consider than working in a research institution implies getting involved in many projects and there is usually less time than what I would like to devote to one specific project. In my opinion, it is very important to work open-minded and to continuously consider the possible connections among different projects. In the case of this Policy Brief, most of the data (international economic policy recommendations) were collected during the past few months. In late September I proposed this topic and the IESE-PPSRC research center decided to inaugurate these series of papers. After reviewing the literature (Table 1), I analyzed the data and I started creating some graphs and building the story I wanted to tell. Of course, the final text was reviewed several times until it was finally published.

Spain’s response to EC and OECD economic policy recommendations” analyses the overall reformist progress of the Spanish Government in an international perspective. According to the international assessment, Spain ranks as one of the top reformers in the Euro Area and the EU as a whole. A second insight one gets from our Policy Brief is that Spain’s delivery, in relative terms to other countries, accelerated between 2011 and 2013.
iesebrief
Of course, this is the general trend and the Policy Brief offers details on the progress in the 18 policy sub-areas we cover at the SpanishReforms project, including how the reform priorities prescribed to Spain by these institutions have changed over time. Substantial progress is recognized in addressing the financial system reform, mainly in the area of recapitalization and restructuring but also by adopting other financial measures. However, both the OECD and the EC point to active labour market policies and professional services as the main structural reforms lagging behind.

More information in www.spanishreforms.com, a new an academic, non‐governmental website that aims at being a useful reference for those interested in independent, rigorous and up‐to‐date information about the Spanish economy and its economic policy reforms.

The Death of Fixed Income

alumni


Alex Hansson
’13 (International Trade, Finance and Development) is an Analyst at Tribus Capital Partners in Zurich, Switzerland. Previously he was External Asset Management Analyst at Credit Suisse.


 

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Source: The New Yorker

A few weeks ago I found myself sitting in the James Joyce Wine Cellar in Zurich listening to a talk by the Chief Investment Officer of one of the world’s largest asset managers’ fixed income division. Surrounded by ageing wine bottles and Swiss bankers in grey suits, the CIO put down his glass of Chateau Neuf du Pape and proclaimed, “You know, I’ve been investing in fixed income all my career, but I feel obliged to tell you that fixed income as an asset class is dead.” That was the last sentence of the speech.

Now I don’t frequent too many of these events, but ending a presentation on that kind of a bombshell was not something that I’d ever experienced before. The Swiss bankers around me shifted nervously in their seats thinking something else was coming. But the CIO did not follow up the statement with any caveats. He was undoubtedly out to provoke and had we pushed him a little he would have most likely followed up his statement with the usual spiel that one should be careful with statements like ‘this time it is different.’ He would have probably added that fixed income in terms of developed markets sovereign and corporate bonds would at some point in the future again be an interesting investment.

Nonetheless, finding out fixed income was dead was pretty exciting. Moreover, the statement was in line with a trend I had been witnessing for the past couple months whereby capital was flowing into a new asset class – alternative fixed income.

But, before moving on to this, it is worth spending a few minutes on the death of fixed income, whether temporary or not. Classic portfolio management theory will tell you to put 60% of your assets in equities (e.g. at its most basic through a S&P 500 Index ETF) and 40% in bonds (e.g. at its most basic through a Bond Index) in order to achieve diversification and lower the portfolio’s volatility. Without getting too deep into the technicalities, the thinking goes that equities outperform bonds in the long run – hence the overweight. However, bonds are included because they lower the volatility and increase the diversification of the overall portfolio. They lower the volatility because they are less risky than equities. Moreover, bonds have historically moved inversely to equities and this diversification effect has served the purpose of smoothing out the return profile of a balanced portfolio in times of market turbulence. Seeing as, nearly all investors have regular liquidity needs for, for instance, a regular mortgage payment, a smoother albeit lower return profile in the long run is more attractive than high volatility with a higher return in the very long run.

So what has changed? Norman Villamin (CIO Coutts) was recently quoted as saying that bonds used to offer an asymmetric payoff relative to equities whereas now you are left with a “symmetric asset class.” Put another way, bonds still serve the purpose of protecting capital when equities are down but no longer give you any meaningful upside. In other words by having 40% bonds you lower volatility but you no longer achieve diversification. Explaining exactly why, at least from a developed markets perspective, is not straightforward. Some analysts have highlighted that rates have been kept low to encourage lending given the slower than expected recovery in the US and Europe. Other analysts have pointed to lower inflation and central banks not feeling the pressure to increase rates. In any case, with very low returns you also have very low volatility. With low volatility even if this effect moves inversely to equities it will not be ‘strong enough’ to provide the desired counterbalancing effect. Think of two grown men on a seesaw where one gets replaced by a child, no matter how much the child jumps up and down on the plank, they will not significantly propel the man into the air. Whatever the reasons for this phenomenon, most seem to agree that a low rate environment will be the norm for some time to come.

Many investors realize that if rates remain low it will become more difficult to find bonds yielding attractive returns without taking on excessive risk. In terms of fixed income this generally means looking towards emerging market debt or distressed corporate bonds. To be clear some investors have successfully gone down this route, such as, Michael Hasenstab (CIO Franklin Templeton) who has became famous for his bullish speeches on Ukrainian debt. Nonetheless this dynamic has led to many investors leaving fixed income in favor of equities. That trend is clearly reflected by the fact that the largest fund by assets under management has over the last year shifted from the PIMCO Total Return fund (a fixed income product) to the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (an equity product). The leaving of Mr. Gross from PIMCO no doubt also contributed to this shift.

With the recent prolonged bull market most investors have shut their eyes to the increased volatility and enjoyed the attractive returns they have seen from their portfolios. However, some sophisticated investors have elected not to move their fixed income exposure to equities. Some have chosen to put assets into well-known alternatives like private equity or real estate. But these asset classes do not offer the same advantages that fixed income did.

As outlined above fixed income was liked because, first, it was relatively low risk. Second, it paid a steady regular coupon, which was liked not just by private investors but especially pension and insurance funds, which have regular liquidity needs. Third, it paid a handsome return of anywhere from 5.00% to 8.00% (historically seen). To put that into perspective, a ten year German Government Bond pays you less than 1.00% currently. A private equity or real estate investment conversely can mean having to lock up capital for ten years, with no regular coupon payment, and with no guarantee for handsome reward.

Given this, many of these sophisticated investors have turned to a different asset class that has emerged largely as a product of new lending opportunities. It is often referred to as Alternative Fixed Income. These opportunities have to a large extent emerged as a product of new banking regulations. Simply put, banks have been forced to move away from certain types of lending and new non-bank credit providers have stepped in to fill this void offering new investment opportunities. Indeed, according to Alliance Bernstein, since 1980 the nonfinancial corporate and mortgage credit outstanding has grown by ca. USD 18.9tn whereof USD 15.0tn can be attributed to non-banks.

This trend of lending by non-banks has been accelerated largely as a product of post-crisis regulation. In Europe, the most important regulation framework for this trend has been Basel III. This framework stipulated that banks now have much higher capital requirements as well as having to take on higher operational costs for certain types of lending. This has been most pronounced for investments with longer investments horizons, which therefore cannot match bank-liability structures subject to daily liquidity requirements.

There are literally hundreds of structures that have emerged to take advantage of this systemic shift. The biggest opportunities for alternative credit providers have been in corporate loans, commercial real estate loans, residential real estate loans, and infrastructure loans. Many new organizations have been set up and are raising capital from investors in order to lend to corporations and real estate developers in the same way banks used to. The lenders pay a coupon on the loan, the new firms take a cut, and the investor gets a regular coupon payment at a tolerable risk and a much higher return than they would have in traditional fixed income.

This systemic shift has created opportunities along the entire supply chain of lending. It stretches from the most logical to the most niche areas you can think of, and no doubt this is just the beginning. Below I will give two examples of the most common constellations.

Most commonly you see new organizations made up of former bankers. They leave or are made redundant by their employer. They take with them an intimate knowledge of that bank’s loan book as well as the skillset to analyze other banks’ loan books. They then raise capital in a fund structure (funded by our sophisticated investors above) and begin buying loans from banks that can no longer be kept on their balance sheets. This can take many different forms. The easiest is a pure purchase at a discount where the new organization takes over the loan. Typically this happens via a Collateralized Loan Obligation (CLO) which is a securitized asset backed by a pool of debt. Another variety is a situation where banks have debt on their balance sheet which is highly attractive from a return perspective but which they cannot keep on their balance sheet. They therefore use something called Regulatory Capital Relief Trades (CRTs) in order to temporarily transfer risky assets off their balance sheets to one of these new organizations which in turn charge interest on the assets while on their balance sheets. Finally you have situations where the bank will give an organization access to their pipeline of loan opportunities. This setup is rarer and requires a very close relationship between the bank and the new organization. Essentially, these new organization can sift through bank’s pipeline of lending opportunities and chose to take on any loans they find attractive. In return the bank receives a share of the profits.

The other more common constellation of new organizations is direct loans that banks used to be able to do. Indeed, many of these organizations are whole teams that used to do the same thing at their former employers. A great example is Renshaw Bay. Renshaw Bay was setup by the former co-CEO of J.P. Morgan’s Investment Bank – Bill Winters. The firm runs a real estate strategy that is “focused on direct, whole loan origination of commercial real estate loans… and seeks to take advantage of the lack of financing available to real estate borrowers”. They also run a structural finance strategy, which looks to “capitalize on opportunities driven by regulatory change and the retreat of capital.” There are now new organizations (or old organizations which have seen a significant uptick in demand) that are doing the same thing in corporate loans, real estate loans, infrastructure loans, or even leverage loans to private equity firms.

It is still relatively early days and no one yet completely understands the full implications of this systemic shift. Perhaps the setup is better, seeing as you have more specialized niche players, often with much of their internal capital at risk, and unhindered by bureaucracy associated with banks running these new organizations. Or perhaps this setup is riskier, since at the same time you also have small, inexperienced, and at times highly leveraged organizations with less oversight then banks used to have. Added to this increasing numbers of pension funds and insurance companies are investing in these structures. Undoubtedly there will be some financial cowboys who have cut corners in order to have first mover advantage. At the same time you will undoubtedly have a lot of smart people who will make themselves and their investors a lot of money. Clearly, it is going to be very interesting to monitor these developments to see whether this shift turns out to be a good one or a bad one.

Young and under pressure – Europe is risking a lost generation

OlgaThe following post by Olga Tschekassin ’13 (Master in International Trade, Finance and Development) has been previously published by the World Economic Forum and Bruegel

Ms. Tschekassin is Research Assistant at Bruegel in Brussels, Belgium. Follow her on Twitter @OlgaTschekassin


Since the beginning of the global financial crisis, social conditions have deteriorated in many European countries. The youth in particular have been affected by soaring unemployment rates that created an outcry for changes in labour market policies for the young in Europe. Following this development, the Council of Europe signed a resolution in 2012 acknowledging the importance of this issue and asking for implementation of youth friendly policies in the Member States. Yet, almost 5.6 million young people were unemployed in 2013 in the European Union (EU) – in nine EU countries the youth unemployment rate more than doubled since the beginning of the crisis.

Today I want to draw your attention to two more indicators reflecting the social situation of the young generation: the percentage of children living in jobless households and the percentage of young people that are neither in employment nor education nor training.

photo credit: Juan Carlos Hidalgo / elmundo.es
photo credit: Juan Carlos Hidalgo / elmundo.es

Children in jobless households

The indicator Children in jobless households measures the share of 0-17 year olds as a share of the total population in this age group, who are living in a household where no member is in employment, i.e. all members are either unemployed or inactive (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Children in jobless households
Figure 1: Children in jobless households

Source: Eurostat and Bruegel calculations. Country groups: 10 other EU15: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Sweden and United Kingdom; Baltics 3: Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia; 10 other CEE refers to the 10 member states that joined in the last decade, excluding the Baltics: Bulgaria Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Cyprus and Malta; Sweden: data for 2007 and 2008 is not available, the indicator is therefore assumed to evolve in line with the other 9 EU15 countries. Such approximation has only a marginal impact on the aggregate of the other EU15 countries, because children in jobless HHs in Sweden represented only 3% of the country group in 2009. Countries in groupings are weighted by population.

In the EU28 countries this share rose only slightly over the past years to 11.2%. It is striking, however, that the ratio of children living in households where no one works more than doubled in the euro-area programme countries (Greece, Ireland, Portugal) as well as in Italy and Spain to 13% and 12%, respectively. And even more shocking – while the share stabilized in the programme countries, in Italy and Spain it is still sharply increasing. In Ireland in 2013 more than one in every six children lived in a household where no one worked. This is indeed an alarming development. Only the Baltics, which experienced a very deep recession among the first countries hit by the crisis, are reporting a sizable turning point in the statistic in 2010 and the share is presently continuing to decline. The numbers are, however, still well above pre-crisis levels.

A high share of children living in jobless households is not only problematic at the moment but can also have negative consequences for the young people’s future since it often means that a child may not only have a precarious income situation in a certain time period, but also that the household cannot make an adequate investment in quality education and training (see a paper on this issue written for the ECOFIN Council by Darvas and Wolff here). Therefore a child’s opportunities to participate in the labour market in the future are likely to be adversely affected. Moreover, as I discussed in a blog earlier this year, children under 18 years are more affected by absolute poverty than any other group in the EU and the generational divide is widening further.

Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET)

The financial situation of young people between 18 and 24 years old who finished their education is less dependent on their parents income because they usually enter the labour market and generate their own income. Therefore we are going to have a closer look on their work situation, i.e. how many young people have difficulties participating in the labour market.

Figure 2:  Not in Education, Employment or Training
Figure 2: Not in Education, Employment or Training

Source: Eurostat and Bruegel calculations. Country groups as in previous chart

The NEET indicator measures the proportion of young people aged 18-24 years which are not in employment, education or training as a percentage of total population in the respective age group. We can see in Figure 2 that the situation among EU28 countries stabilized over the last four years. The good news is that for the first time since 2007 we see a decline in the rate in the euro-area programme countries in 2013. This decline is, however, mostly driven by Ireland with an unchanged situation in Greece and Portugal. Also, in the Baltics the ratio is on a downward trend. More worrying, however, is the situation in Italy and Spain. Among all EU28 countries, the young generation in Italy with 22.2% of all young people being without any employment, education or training, is disproportionately hit by the deterioration in the labour market. Every fifth young person between 18 and 24 is struggling to escape the exclusion trap. Europe and especially Italy is risking a lost generation more than ever.

Labour market policies for young people should therefore stand very high on the national agendas of Member States. The regulations introduced in summer 2013 into the Italian labour market reform which are setting economic incentives for employers to hire young people build an important step towards more labour market integration of the youth in Europe. Their effects are yet to be observed in the employment statistics in the coming years in Italy. More action on the national and European level is needed to improve the situation of the young.

Breakfast seminars: food for thought

By Marlène Rump ’15, current student in the International Trade, Finance and Development master program at Barcelona GSE. Marlène is on Twitter @marleneleila.

seminars

On Wednesday, October 22, we didn’t have classes, so we decided to explore one of the numerous events on the GSE calendar. For some brain and other food, the breakfast seminar on Labour, Public and Development Economics sounded just right.

The presentations scheduled were held by two of UPF’s PhD students who are in their last year. This means they are finalizing their “job market paper”, which refers to the paper they will use as a demonstration of their skills and interests when they apply for positions.

One important purpose of the seminar is giving the students an opportunity to practice presenting and defending their work, as well as receiving improvement suggestions from fellow PhD students and professors.

Backlash: The Unintended Effects of Language Prohibition in US Schools after World War I

Vicky Fouka started the seminar with her paper on language prohibition in the US Schools after World War I. She compared two states, similar in most social aspects, one of which banned the teaching of German from the primary schools for a few years and the other, her control state, which didn’t.

The prohibition, which was implemented by the authorities in early 1920s, originated from a German-hatred which was widespread in the United States after World War I. What was promoted as an integration measure had the exact opposing effects: Vicky finds that the Germans living in the state with language prohibition deepened their cultural segregation. In comparison with the control state, they were more likely to marry a German spouse and give their first child a very German sounding name.

Editor’s note: Vicky Fouka is a graduate of the Barcelona GSE Master in Economics. See more of her research on her website.

Cultural Capital in the Labor Market: Evidence from Two Trade Liberalization Episodes

The second presentation was also about the assimilation of immigrants, however Tetyana Surovtseva conducted her analysis with modern day data. Her assumption was that if the host country of immigrants increased trade with their country of origin, these immigrants had an advantage on the labor market in trade related sectors. Her hypothesis was that if the host country of immigrants increased trade with their country of origin, these immigrants had an advantage on the labor market in trade related sectors. Her underlying premise is that immigrants have a certain “cultural capital”, other than language, which is valuable for corporations involved in trade with their country of origin.

Tetyana examined the labor market demand for Chinese and Mexican immigrants in the US after a punctual improvement of trade agreements. Her findings suggest that labor market returns to the immigrant cultural capital increase as a result of trade with the country of origin.

Editor’s note: Tetyana is also a Barcelona GSE Economics alum. More about her work is available on her job market page.

Attend some seminars! Especially if you’re thinking of doing a PhD.

For both presentations there were numerous questions which gave additional insight especially on the methods of research. We also learned that most PhD students start their final thesis three years before the end of their program.

After this experience, I can highly recommend attending the seminars. You learn about interesting economic questions and see a specific application of your econometrics classes and this in only one hour. In addition, for those who are envisaging doing a PhD, the presentations give a genuine insight of the type of research you could be conducting.

Rethinking Fogape – Master Projects 2014

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series showcasing Barcelona GSE master projects by students in the Class of 2014. The project is a required component of every master program.


Rethinking Fogape: An Evaluation of Chile’s Partial Credit Guarantee Scheme

Authors:

Margarita Armenteros, Niccolò Artellini, Andreas Hoppe, Marco Urizar, and Bernard Yaros

Master Program:

International Trade, Finance and Development

Paper Summary:

Small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs) often find themselves credit constrained due to a lack of collateral, limited credit history, and informational asymmetries that entail high monitoring costs for lenders. Governments around the world have introduced partial credit guarantee schemes (PCGS) to overcome these constraints and ease financial access for SMEs. These schemes aim to relieve credit-constrained firms by providing public collateral that reduces the risk borne by private lenders in the event of a default. In recent years, PCGS have been utilized as a way to protect SME lending in the backdrop of the global credit crunch.

Why are SMEs important? Any economy is dependent on the innovation, technological change, and job creation that new enterprises introduce, and in most cases, such firms are small in size. The role of SMEs in Chile is no exception. By 2009, the SME sector in Chile contributed to 20% of GDP, and the percentage of workers employed in SMEs stood at 56.4% in 2011. Nevertheless, Chilean SMEs have pointed to the fact that their difficulties in obtaining a formal loan rest with a lack of guarantees and high financial costs.

In 2000, Chile relaunched its public guarantee fund Fogape (Fondo de garantías para pequeños empresarios) with the goal of providing public guarantees for loans taken out by SMEs with private financial institutions. In 2007 and 2009, the government re-capitalized the fund by $10 million and $130 million respectively as a direct countercyclical response to the international financial crisis. Fogape is unique in the way by which it disseminates its guarantees into the credit market; it does so through an auctioning system that is designed to reduce moral hazard on the part of participating banks that bid for Fogape’s guarantees.

To assess econometrically the impact of Fogape on eligible firms, we used firm-level data obtained from two longitudinal surveys undertaken by the Ministry of Economy. We employed the strategy of regression discontinuity design (RDD) in which receipt of the treatment depends discontinuously on the value of one or more observable characteristics of the subjects. In our case, we exploited an arbitrary threshold of eligibility by which only firms with reported sales less than $750,000 are eligible for Fogape’s guarantees.

We estimated the intention-to-treat, or the effect of eligibility to Fogape on eligible firms vis-à-vis ineligible ones. In keeping with the literature on RDD, we restricted our sample of interest to only those enterprises whose reported sales fall within a distance h on either side of the sales cutoff of eligibility. Our robustness checks confirmed that eligible and ineligible firms at the margins on either side of the cutoff were not systematically different in key baseline characteristics.

We selected the following outcome variables in which we expected to observe a change due to Fogape’s presence: the log difference of sales from 2007 to 2009; debt-to-equity ratio in 2009; profit margin in 2009; and long-term debt over total debt in 2009.

Log Sales Growth

 

We did not obtain any statistically significant results, suggesting that the effect of eligibility is neither positive nor harmful to the various performance indicators of the eligible enterprises in our sample of interest. We found that eligible firms within our bandwidth h, ceteris paribus, experienced less proportional change in their sales from 2007 to 2009 than ineligible ones. We had expected to see firms that are eligible for credit guarantees to have higher sales growth because of the investment in working capital and productive assets that such access to credit would allow for. The finding from our RDD analysis that eligible firms had less debt-to-equity in 2009 than non-eligible ones was equally puzzling. We expected eligibility to have increased their debt-to-equity ratio vis-à-vis similar ineligible firms because of the loans they are getting through Fogape. Finally, the result that eligible, surveyed firms had less long-term to total debt in 2009 than ineligible ones within our bandwidth h was also contrary to our expectations. Fogape has put emphasis on its allocation of guarantees to long-term credit, which led us to believe that there would be a corresponding increase in the long-term over total debt ratio of eligible firms.

We started with the premise that SMEs are credit constrained, which validates Fogape’s raison d’être in the economy as a provider of credit. We also assumed that this guaranteed credit would be used for productive investments, which would then be reflected in firm profitability and sales growth. Why do we find no evidence of Fogape’s impact during the period of 2007 to 2009? Are firms receiving Fogape-guaranteed loans not truly credit constrained? Or are lenders substituting Fogape guarantees for private ones? Do these firms have the expertise or productivity to undertake successful investments? In the survey used in our study, it is possible to identify 369 firms that received Fogape guarantees for a secondary loan in 2009. Out of these firms, 40% obtained their primary loan using physical collateral and 18% using private guarantees, thereby hinting at a substitutability problem. However, it is still not possible to say that Fogape users, which already had access to the fund or other sources of credit, were not credit constrained to begin with. We suggest more research be carried out and that the portfolio of participating lenders be reviewed to determine whether lenders have been substituting private for public guarantees and if Fogape beneficiaries were truly credit constrained. We find evidence that firms also face difficulties besides credit constraints. In the 2010 World Bank Enterprise Survey, Chilean firms identify an inadequately educated workforce as their second largest constraint. Furthermore, 25% of small and 22% of medium-sized firms identify this very constraint as their main obstacle. To address productivity concerns as well as competitiveness issues facing SME’s, we propose more complementarity between Fogape and other pro-SME institutions and public programs.

Read the full paper or view slides below:

Developing a Fairtrade Cocoa Sector in Nicaragua – Master Projects 2014

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series showcasing Barcelona GSE master projects by students in the Class of 2014. The project is a required component of every master program.

Photo credit: X. Scheldemann/Bioversity International
Photo credit: X. Scheldemann/Bioversity International

 Developing a Fairtrade Cocoa Sector in Nicaragua

Authors:

Giuliano J. Bandeen, Armen Khederlarian, Edmund Moshammer, Tommaso Operto, and Christoph Sponsel

Master Program:

International Trade, Finance and Development

Project Summary:

This is a policy proposal directed at the Government of Nicaragua. Nicaragua’s cocoa industry achieves a very low export unit value in comparison to global competitors in West Africa, South East Asia and Latin America. Given the promising prospective growth of the cocoa world market and the higher price paid for Fairtrade cocoa, the aim of the present policy memo is to examine whether Nicaragua could benefit if farmers were to switch to certified cocoa production standards. We show that under perfect market conditions this would indeed result in higher profits. However we also identify that there are currently several obstacles preventing farmers from switching. These obstacles include minimum quantity requirements of international buyers, price information asymmetries, a low negotiation power in the supply chain, and financial and technological constraints. We propose three policies targeting these obstacles which consist of a provision of storage facilities, a credit guarantee and an educational campaign. All of them rely on group forming of farmers with mutual liability agreements.

Comparing the net present value profit of selling conventional cocoa with an investment in our proposed policies, which allows selling Fairtrade cocoa, we calculate an internal rate of return. This rate varies between both potential clients, European chocolate manufacturers Ritter Sport and Zotter and is 129% and 20% respectively. This hence encourages our policy proposal. By comparing different scenarios of government intervention we find that the highest average welfare gain results from an intermediate level of intervention. In this scenario the government would pay for warehouse construction and an educational campaign, and would provide a credit line guarantee to avoid that cooperatives pay a high risk premium. Additionally we include several robustness checks where we allow for changes in investment horizon, fertilizer effectiveness, government interest rate, farmers’ risk premium and most importantly international cocoa prices. We show that implementing our policies promises high potential gains from switching for individual farmers and the entire economy under a wide range of scenarios.

Read the full project report or view slides below:

ECB Outright Monetary Transactions – Master Projects 2014

Editor’s note: This is the first post in a series that will showcase Barcelona GSE master projects by students in the Class of 2014. The master project is a required component of every master program.


 An Evaluation of the ECB’s Outright Monetary Transactions

Authors:

Madalen Castells, Alexandros Georgakopoulos, Edgar Giménez Trill, Jesse Lastunen, and Karolos Lymperakis-Pitas

Master Program:

International Trade, Finance and Development

Project Summary:

Since early 2009, the euro crisis has influenced most countries of the European Monetary Union (EMU), contributing to persistent low economic growth, high unemployment, steeply rising public financial costs and several problems with the region’s banks. As a result, a wide variety of policy measures have been adopted to address these problems. The central actors have included not only individual member states but also the European Central Bank (ECB), European Commission (EC) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

While the success of many of the policies in recent years have been contested by different parties, the ECB’s Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) program initiated in the summer of 2012 has been widely welcomed. Our paper attempts to understand and investigate OMT’s claimed success, motivated especially by the recent efforts to discontinue the policy. The implications with regard to the continuation of the program are potentially enormous, both economically and in terms of the social welfare of European citizens. Altogether, our motivation stems from the catastrophic consequences of the crisis, mixed success of most mid-crisis policy responses, and the uncertain destiny of OMT – perhaps one of the most crucial policy initiatives adopted in Europe after 2008.

Our research questions build on the uncertain contribution of OMT to the declining bond spreads in the peripheral euro nations. We ask whether OMT was responsible for the decline in their spreads after mid-2012, why this might be the case, and whether the policy can be successful in the future. The underlying policy question is simply whether European legislators should resume OMT. Our study is based on two steps: we first examine the ”theory and practice” of the program, also conducting a compact literature survey on other research studying its effectiveness, and then turn to quantitative methods. Our quantitative analysis consists of a regression study and the application of the synthetic control method to examine OMT’s effect on declining bond spreads in the periphery. In the process, we also analyze the nature and dynamics of the post-Lehman hikes in peripheral bond spreads.

Our results suggest, firstly, that the post-Lehman takeoff in sovereign bond spreads in the periphery was largely induced by fears of sovereign default that were separated from ”normal” associations between spreads and economic fundamentals. In particular, the synthetic control countries we construct based on spread determinants in the peripheral countries do not experience any such increases in their spreads. Our regression analysis also indicates that the mid-crisis evolution of peripheral spreads differs strikingly from the values predicted based on the stable period between 2000 and 2008. Furthermore, countries outside the periphery do not suffer from the pronounced association between spreads and fundamentals.

Secondly we find that OMT was very likely to be responsible for the rapid decline in peripheral spreads after mid-2012. The synthetic control countries we construct are not significantly affected by OMT, and some actually experience slight upward trends in their spreads after the policy is announced. The method lends strong support to OMT’s role in the declines in peripheral spreads. Similarly, the regression analysis suggests that post-OMT trends in spreads approach the stable values predicted based on the pre-crisis period. In most peripheral countries, OMT also breaks up the upward trend predicted based on the period before OMT.

Our results broadly validate earlier studies by Krishnamurthy et. al (2013) and Altavilla et al. (2014) regarding OMT’s effect, and Arghyrou and Kontonikas (2011), De Grauwe and Yi (2012) and Di Cesare et al. (2012) regarding the panic-driven nature of the increased peripheral bond spreads during the crisis. Although we consider that further research regarding the suggested long-term costs of OMT is needed, we strongly believe that the benefits of the policy outweigh the hypothetical concerns, and OMT should therefore be resumed by European policymakers. In particular, OMT had the intended effect of reducing bond spreads and stabilizing monetary policy in the European Monetary Union, and there is no indication that actually implementing bond purchases through the program will be necessary.

Read the full project report or view slides below: