Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category

Understanding SEC’s Money Market Reform Proposal (Release 33-9408)

Monday, July 1st, 2013

A money market fund’s purpose is to provide investors with low risk/low return, easily accessible cash-equivalent assets.The fund holds an objective of maintaining a NAV (net asset value) of $1 per share. MMF portfolios are comprised of short-term securities representing “high quality, liquid debt and monetary instruments”.

Totaling approximately $2.6 trillion in assets, corporations often heavily rely on the funds as a source of short-term financing in their day to day business. MMFs drew initial interest from the SEC when the oldest money fund – and one of the biggest – the Reserve Primary Fund, dropped 3% in 2008 causing investors to panic. In the days following this decline the fund experienced investor withdrawals of over $300 billion. Bringing the short-term credit market to a halt, corporations were stymied in their efforts to pay critical expenses such as payroll, etc.

Since this panic, the SEC has been pressed to reform the rules under which these funds operate (despite ire from the mutual fund industry).

Intent on mitigating the financial system from economic shocks, the SEC released a milestone marking proposal detailing new rules for the industry.

The release outlining the reform puts forth two proposals. The first proposal calls to institute a floating NAV policy allowing MMF shares to fluctuate on prime institutional funds thus removing the special exemptions that used to allow MMFs to use amortized-cost accounting and rounding to maintain stable NAVs. By floating NAVs, funds are able to destigmatize changes in fund value and train investors to understand fluctuations. (It should be noted that retail and governments MMFs are not to be affected)

The second proposal is to limit redemptions or charge fees for full redemptions on MMF holdings. This proposal is designed to mitigate MMF’s susceptibility to heavy redemption during panic, improve MMF’s ability to manage and mitigate potential contagion from high levels of redemption, preserve maximum benefits of MMFs for investors and increase the transparency of risk in these funds.

Even with floating NAVs, volatility is expected to be minimal, yet it is still to be understood how these reforms could affect the industry. Comments have been made suggesting complications with overnight sweep accounts, gains/losses reporting in switchover from fixed NAVs, etc.

It is important to note that this is in fact just a proposal and is yet to be heavily weighed in upon by the money fund industry. Critics worry reform could press more investors to pull out of the market as it has already experienced a $1.3 trillion dollar decline since 2008. SEC commissioners will most likely vote on the proposal later this year.

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George Soros on European Fiscal & Banking Crisis and EU Summit on June 28-29, 2012

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Here I present key take-aways from George Soros’ in depth Bloomberg interview on the current European fiscal and banking crisis, Angela Merkel, the Spanish bailout, and Greece leaving the Eurozone.

The video is also below:

Banking & Fiscal Issues

  • “There is an interrelated problem of the banking system and the excessive risk premium on sovereign debt – they are Siamese twins, tied together and you have to tackle both.”
  • Soros summarizes the forthcoming Eurozone Summit ‘fiasco’ as fatal if the fiscal disagreements are not resolved in 3 days.
  • There is no union without a transfer.
  • Europe needs banking union.
    • Germany will only succumb if Italy and Spain really push it to the edge (Germany can live in the present situation; the others cannot)
    • Europe needs a fiscal means of strengthening growth through Treasury type entity
      • What is needed is a European fiscal authority that will be composed of the finance ministers, but would be in charge of the various rescue mechanisms, the European Stability Mechanism, and would combine issuing treasury bills.
        • Those treasury bills would yield 1% or less and that would be the relief that those countries need in order to finance their debt.
        • Bill would be sold on a competitive basis.
        • Right now there are something like over €700bn euros are kept on deposit at the European Central Bank earning a 0.25% because the interbank market has broken down, so then you have €700bn of capital that would be very happy to earn 0.75% instead of 0.25%, and the treasury bills by being truly riskless and guaranteed by the entire community, would yield in current conditions less than 1%.
        • Governments should start a European unemployment scheme, paid on a European level instead of national level.
        • Soros’ solutions, however, are unlikely to prove tenable in the short-term as he notes “Merkel has emerged as a strong leader”, but “unfortunately, she has been leading Europe in the wrong direction”.
          • “Euro bonds are not possible because Germany would not consider euro bonds until there is a political union, and it should come at the end of the process not at the beginning.
          • This would be a temporary measure, limited both in time and in size, and thereby it could be authorized according to the German constitution as long as the Bundestag approves it, so it could be legal under the German constitution and under the existing treaties.
          • The political will by Germany to put it into effect and that would create a level playing field so that Italy and Spain could actually refinance debt on reasonable terms.

Scenario Discussion

  • LTRO would be less effective now
  • At 6%, 7% of Italy’s GDP goes towards paying interest, which is completely unsustainable
  • Spain may need a full bailout if summit is not successful
    • Financial markets have the ability to push countries into default
    • Because Spain cannot print money itself
    • Even if we manage to avoid, let’s say an ‘accident’ similar to what you had in 2008 with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, the euro system that would emerge would actually perpetuate the divergence between creditors and debtors and would create a Europe which is very different from open society.
    • It would transform it into a hierarchical system where the division between creditors and debtors would become permanent…It would lead to Germany being in permanent domination.
      • It would become like a German empire, and the periphery would become permanently depressed areas.

On Greece

  • Greece will leave the Eurozone
    • It’s very hard to see how Greece can actually meet the conditions that have been set for Greece, and the Germans are determined not to modify those conditions seriously, so medium term risk
    • Greece leaving the euro zone is now a real expectation, and this is what is necessary to strengthen the rest of the euro zone, since Greece can’t print money
    • By printing money, a country can devalue the currency and people can lose money by buying devalued debt, but there is no danger of default.
      • The fact that the individual members don’t now control the right to print money has created this situation.
      • A European country that could actually default. and that is the risk that the financial markets price into the market and that is why say Italian ten-year bonds yield 6% whereas British 10-year bonds yield only 1.25%.
  • That difference is due to the fact that these countries have surrendered their right to print their own money and they can be pushed into default by speculation in the financial markets.

On Angela Merkel

  • Angela Merkel has been leading Europe in the wrong direction. I think she is acting in good faith and that is what makes the whole situation so tragic and that is a big problem that we have in financial markets generally – she is supporting a false idea, a false ideology, a false interpretation which is reinforced by reality.
  • In other words, Merkel’s method works for a while until it stops working, and that is what is called a financial bubble
    • Financial bubbles look very good while they are being formed and everyone believes in it and then it turns out to be unsustainable…
    • The European Union could turn out to have been a bubble of this kind unless we realize there is this problem and we solve it and the solution is there.
    • I think everybody can see it, all we need to do is act on it, and put on a united front, and I think that if the rest of  Europe is united, I think that Germany will actually recognize it and adjust to it.

On Investing

  • Stay in cash
  • German yields are too low
  • If summit turns out well, purchase industrial shares, but avoid everything else (consumer, banks)

Conclusion: We are facing conditions reminiscent to the 1930s because of policy mistakes, forgetting what we should have learned from John Maynard Keynes.

Occupy Main Street, Restructure America

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

November 6, 2011: It has been almost 4 years since the United States and the entire Western World has been mired in this recessionary state. What has happened should not be a surprise to anyone. After scrambling for an ever higher quality of life, sending labor-intensive industries overseas, and losing more than 2.5 million manufacturing jobs and more than 850,000 professional service and information sector jobs to outsourcing, we foolishly blame our government and the top 1% of our earning population for our hardships. Most Americans lack the skills and motivation to innovate, and are fit to work only in commoditized industries, yet most of our commoditized industries have been sent overseas. The government has unsuccessfully spent trillions on the economy to lessen market volatility, to reassure pensioners, to bolster bank and corporate balance sheets, and to create jobs. Over the past 10 years, spending growth for prisons has risen at a rate 6x the rate of spending on education because this society simply does not value education as much as it should. The truth of the matter is, we are all to blame. After inflating real estate and securities prices through leverage, after fighting senseless wars in pursuit of oil when we have enough natural gas reserves to last 200 years, and after allowing an entire generation of our citizens to lose their values of hard work and integrity, we ALL are to blame.

Instead of pushing our children to embrace globalization, we have allowed them to grow up isolated from the rest of the world. Instead of encouraging them to be productive and to earn their own keep from a young age, we have allowed them to spend hours watching brainless television and to lose themselves in drugs and alcoholism in communities where families aren’t the norm and divorce rates are greater than 70%. Instead of building secure homes, we have a bred a completely confused generation just asking to be taken advantage of by the rest of the world.

We need to OCCUPY MAIN ST.; we need to restructure America, the American lifestyle, and the American mind before it’s too late. We need to instill passion for innovation and entrepreneurship, we need to teach our children practical skills and make sure that they are proficient in math and science, we need to encourage competition, and we need to instill the values of hard work and integrity into our youth so they can grow up to be proud and self-sufficient.  No able bodied person should feel entitled to anything material in life without providing value or giving back to society.

Today, there are 45 million Americans on food stamps.



The number of very poor Americans (those at less than 50% of the official poverty level) has risen to 6.7%, or to 20.5 million.  This is the highest percentage of the population since 1993.  At least 2.2 million more Americans, a 30% rise since 2000, live in neighborhoods where the poverty rate is 40% or higher. Last year, 2.6 million more Americans descended into poverty, which was the largest increase since 1959.  In 2000, 11.3% of all Americans were living in poverty; today 15.1% of Americans are living in poverty. The poverty rate for children living in the U.S. has increased to 22%. There are 314 counties in the U.S. where at least 30% of the children are facing food insecurity. More than 20 million U.S. children rely on school meal programs to keep from going hungry. In 2010, 42% of all single mothers in the U.S. were on food stamps. More than 50 million Americans are now on Medicaid. One out of every six Americans is enrolled in at least one government anti-poverty program. I agree that we should help the poor and that compassion is a virtue, but shouldn’t these people help themselves as well? What specifically has caused their plight? Is only the government to blame? Are only the rich to blame? No, of course not.


Inflation adjusted wages have not grown since 1999, the S&P 500 is at 1998 levels, and real estate prices are at 2002 levels.  It is up to us to realize what caused the “lost decade” and avoid a “lost century.”

Why has this happened? By the 1970s, the average American was 20x richer than the average Chinese person. Today, it is only 5x. The Western world rose to power because “they had laws and rules invented by reason.” Our institutions, our basic freedoms and property rights, our discipline, and our motivation to work hard created $130 trillion of wealth in the Western World. Unfortunately, we have lost our work ethic and our intellectual drive. The average Korean works 1,000 hours more per year than the average German. The Chinese soon will have filed more intellectual property patents than the Germans. This is the END of the great divergence between the West and the East. There is little that differentiates us from the rest in a world that is being forced to understand the idea of resource scarcity more than ever before.

In 1776, Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations, explained how the East lagged behind because it lacked capitalism and property laws. Niall Ferguson explains how in addition to this, Competition, Applied Science, Property Rights, Modern Medicine, the Consumer Society, and Work Ethic propelled the West into prosperity:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpnFeyMGUs8[/youtube]

This video link by Niall Ferguson shows why the Western world may lag behind as emerging market nations continue to gain in global wealth.

I am sick and tired of watching Occupy Wall Street protests. Stupidity should not be tolerated; we should educate the rest and Occupy Main Street. I asked a protester two weeks ago why he was protesting, and he could not give me a straight answer. His parents unfortunately didn’t teach him the values of hard work and self respect. It reminds me of the guy in this video asking for “millionaires & billionaires” to pay for his college tuition: [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrPGoPFRUdc&feature=share[/youtube]

Contrast that young man with this young Asian immigrant, who hasn’t been able to set up his business properly in 2 weeks because of the protesters blocking access to his food cart:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZxaUgI0Ascw&feature=related[/youtube]

I can’t believe I would ever say this, but even Ari Gold knows better: [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ajh8zKPMXc[/youtube]

Soros Says the U.S. is Already in a Double Dip Recession – Defining Balance Sheet Recessions

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Soros recently asserted that Europe could be more dangerous to the global financial markets than the default of Lehman Brothers in 2008, because of the political stubbornness of European policy makers.   He has been saying this for over two years now, while government officials continue to ignore him, focusing instead on making bold statements and causing riots.  In a brilliant move, Soros returned investor capital at the end of July to avoid the eyes of the public.  I am sure he is now short sovereigns via CDS, currencies, and synthetic instruments, while he continues to donate to the poor in Eastern Europe like a modern day Robin Hood.  Since March, Italian CDS has more than doubled, and French and Belgian CDS spreads will continue to creep higher as the sovereign crisis persists.  How are Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal supposed to grow their way out of debt, as deficit cutting reduces European GDP growth to less than 1%?

The public doesn’t trust officials to make timely decisions to protect the EU.   The PIIGS (Ireland and Italy included) pose an insurmountable task for the region, as the combined nations have far greater GDP and net leverage than Germany, the only country that will be supporting the EFSF with a AAA rating. Italy itself has €1.2 trillion of debt, which is  more than Germany, and France may be downgraded in the next 6 months, which is evident in how much its CDS spread has widened over the past 2 months.  France also cannot print money like the United States, and certainly should have been downgraded beforehand, sharply decreasing the effectiveness of the stabilization facility in the EU. A French downgrade would not only endanger French banks, it would create counterparty risk for its U.S. partners as well.  Soros has already claimed that the U.S. is currently in a double dip recession, which I personally think to be true.

Both the majority of the EU and the United States are in a global double dip already not only because of policy mistakes, but due to unsustainable leverage, overspending, broken healthcare and education systems, and corrupt governments. Recent real estate, manufacturing, and confidence numbers, along with revisions down in the earnings of major metallurgical coal and transportation companies in developed countries support my thesis (look at tickers ANR, WLT).  Alpha Natural Resources recently cited a sharp decrease in coal demand for steel production in Asia, reflecting weakness in both its U.S. and ex-U.S. clients.  In the U.S., real estate usually contributes 15% to GDP growth, and it is showing no chance of recovering (HOV), as most sales over the past two years have been distressed sales driven by investors, not families or single buyers.  Developed economies are slowing down quickly, as elected officials argue over who is more important than the other.  The S&P 500 ex-dividends is at the same level it was in 1998, the FTSE MIB in Italy is down 30% on the year (40% from April), and the emerging market index (EEM) just broke its 2010 lows.  Many European financial institution equities are down 60%+ to date.  Markets are broken, as the CME has to raise margins every other day to bring down the prices of precious metals, which are rising in the face of fiat destruction and future inflation risk.  Poverty has reached 15% in the United States, unemployment is over 9.2%, underemployment is about 17%, and local government cuts have resulted in the layoffs of countless public employees, like the recent 3,000 teachers who were fired in Providence, Rhode Island.

There are 44 million people on food stamps in the United States, which is supposed to be the wealthiest nation, and the land of hope for many immigrants.  Over 30% of the U.S. population pays more than half their gross income on rent, since incomes (adjusting for inflation) have not increased since 2000.  With rents projected to increase 3-4% in metropolitan areas over the next year, even the educated poor may be driven out of cities or on to the streets. The land of hope? Why don’t you ask my hardworking university friends about hope, who are much more qualified than some of their U.S. peers, but cannot get jobs and improve the quality of our economy due to the difficulty of obtaining visas.  This country was built by immigrants, who are now blocked out of entering the nation. Teen unemployment also hit decade lows this past month.

According to New York-based Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI), which tracks some 20 large economies contributing about 80% of the world GDP and provides critical information about upturns and downturns of economic cycles to money managers, we will know within the next 60 days whether we are in a recession or not.  ECRI’s Lakshman Achuthan has been one of the most accurate forecasters for economic cycles over the past decade.   He argues that the 2008/2009 recession was different than the sharp recession of the 1980s, “This is very different than the early 1980s. The issues that ail the U.S. economy and the jobs market today are not things that result from nearby events. What we’re living through and dealing with now has been building for decades,” he says. “If you look at the data, you see that the pace of expansion has been stair-stepping down ever since the 1970s, on all counts — on production, how much can we produce, how many jobs can we create, how much money do we make, how much do we sell. These are all trending down.” In the deep recession of the 1980s, GDP growth was 5%+ coming out of it…our growth in Q111 was revised down to 0.4%, and will be less than 2% for the year. Don’t believe me? Check on your own.

“If we do have a double-dip recession, Achuthan says, the people who are already having trouble finding work and paying bills are already in a depression and that they “are going to suffer more.”  ”It poses massive problems for policymakers because a new recession automatically increases all of these expenditures out of the public sector, while at the same time dramatically decreasing all their revenue,” he says. “So there’s even less ability to help the people who are hurting the most.”

Although I am not a fan of Roubini for his sensationalist gloom and doom scenarios, he does do decent research and predicted a 60% chance of a double dip in the U.S. three weeks ago.  The United States is in a balance sheet recession, as the economist Richard Koo, a strategist at Nomura, predicted may happen back in 2009.   Most of the growth we have experienced has been the result of continued fiscal and monetary stimulus from the United States government over the past three years, as well as inventory restocking.  The biggest driver of this slow and painful recession is that more stringent underwriting standards for real estate lending and small business lending are slowing down aggregate demand and GDP growth.  Koo argues that once you have a balance sheet recession, people focus on paying down debt, making the situation much worse over time.   The government has to increase fiscal stimulus for the entire duration of the private credit contraction cycle to overcome private deleveraging.  Unfortunately war and internal conflict has made this impossible in the United States as our debt to GDP nears 100%. Since the private sector has moved away from profit maximization to debt minimization, newly generated savings and debt repayments enter the banking system but cannot leave the system due to a lack of borrowers.  The economy here will not and cannot enter self-sustaining growth until private sector balance sheets are repaired.

If the government tries to cut spending too aggressively in 2012-2013, Koo thinks that we would fall into the same trap President FDR fell into in 1937 and that Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto fell into in 1997.  The deflationary gap created by a lack of credit creation and fiscal stimulus “will continue to push the economy toward a contractionary equilibrium until the private sector is too impoverished to save any money.”  The economy will collapse again, and the second collapse will be worse than the first.  It will be difficult to convince people to change their behavior in this scenario.

In a typical recession, private sector balance sheets are not hurt very badly, and most still express profit maximizing behavior.  People borrow money and spend as interest rates are lowered.  In a balance sheet recession, consumers refuse to borrow even if rates are at 0%.  This results in asset prices collapsing and banking crises.  Banks then cannot lend into the private sector, and the government becomes the borrower of last resort, at extremely low rates, because banks don’t need to hold capital against government loans.  When people use money to pay down debt, they withdraw money from their bank accounts and pay it back to the banks, so both deposits and the money supply shrink, which actually caused the Great Depression.  For example, 88% of Obama’s tax rebates have been used to pay down debt.

Let me put it in perspective:

According to Koo, “The Board of Governors of the Fed in 1976 estimated that deposits lost in Depression-era bank closures and through increased hoarding of cash outside of the banking system explained just 15% of the almost $18 billion decline in deposits during the period. Meanwhile, bank lending to the private sector plunged 47%, or by almost $20 billion, from 1929 to 1932. The conventional wisdom is that lending fell because banks panicked in response to dwindling reserves and forcibly called in loans. But that same Fed study shows that bank reserves did not actually fall during that period, when borrowings from the Fed are taken into account. In addition, a survey of almost 3,500 manufacturers, undertaken in 1932 by the National Industrial Conference Board, showed that fewer than 15% of the firms surveyed reported any difficulty in their dealings with banks.”
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If bank closures, cash hoarding and heartless bankers didn’t cause the Depression, what did? ”There’s only one possible alternative explanation for that era’s dramatic shrinkage in deposits and loans — or, at least, for the 85% of those shrinkages that can’t be attributed to the traditional villains. And that is that firms were reducing their debt voluntarily. At that time, the Fed tried to increase money supply by pumping reserves into the system, but with everyone paying down debt, the multiplier was actually negative, so it produced no results whatsoever.”
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And companies became hellbent to pay down debt because — “The price of assets purchased with borrowed funds (as most had been, during the Roaring’20s) collapsed after the stock market crash, and companies’ leverage had already gotten extremely high before the Crash. In other words, companies in the 1930s faced the same balance sheet problems as Japanese firms confronted in the 1990s. The lesson we learned from our experience in Japan is that with the government borrowing and spending money, the money multiplier will stay positive, and that’s basically how Japan kept its GDP growing throughout its Great Recession. So we have a situation where fiscal policy is actually controlling the effectiveness of monetary policy. It’s a complete reversal of what almost everyone alive today learned in school — that monetary policy is the way to go. But once everyone is minimizing debt instead of maximizing profits, all sorts of fundamental assumptions go out the window.” Just like a severe asset price crash on leverage caused crises for the U.S. in the 1930s and for Japan in the 1990s, our real estate driven recession is more than just a manufacturing slowdown or a simple policy mistake.
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In the U.S. we had over 150 bank closures last year, and have had 72 in 2011.  Banks are reticent to lend, but the real problem continues to be that there is less demand for money, and deleveraging will continue to weigh on growth for years. There are many parallels Koo describes with the Japanese crisis as well, which I will discuss in another article.
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The worst part of our current situation in the U.S. is that new bank capital adequacy standards are making it even more difficult for banks to encourage private lending.  So banks do not wish to lend, lending standards have increased dramatically, and citizens don’t want to borrow…and now with a flat yield curve, I don’t understand how financial institutions are going to dig their way out of this mess with profits either. Thank you Ben Bernanke.  Your “operation twist” policy has eroded all profit potential for financial institutions in 2012.  Let the deleveraging continue…

Cheers, Singh

“As I said there is nothing wrong with failing. Pick yourself up and try it again. You never are going to know how good you really are until you go out and face failure.”
-Henry Kravis

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Moody’s Cuts Japanese Debt Outlook to Negative

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Japanese Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, has been working to garner lawmakers’ support for measures to reduce national debt, including possible sales tax increases. Prime Minister Kan must work to persuade legislators to back his budget related bills, which include plans for financing the national budget with increased sales taxes. Yoshimasa Maruyama, a senior economist at Itochu Corporation in Tokyo commented on the national debt crisis, stating, “Japan can’t sustain its borrowing needs without real tax hikes. The more the government delays this, the more its debt burden’s going to swell. We’re running out of time.”  This political impasse will continue to strain efforts to control the country’s debt, which is currently predicted to surpass twice the size of the economy this year, and will reach up to 210 percent of gross domestic product by 2012 – compared to an estimated 101 percent for the United States.  This marks the biggest debt burden held by any country and the highest percent of GDP of all the countries tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Moody’s Investors Service, a credit rating agency which performs international financial research and risk analysis on commercial and government entities, lowered Japan’s debt rating outlook from stable to negative. Moody’s stated that they believed Japan’s economic and fiscal policies “may not prove strong enough to achieve the government’s deficit reduction target and contain the inexorable rise in debt.” Along with Moody’s Investors Service, Standard & Poor’s lowered its rating stating that the Japanese government did not have a  “coherent strategy” for addressing the current debt situation. The decrease in rating had lowered the nation’s rating to AA-, comparable to China.

Japan’s debt rating outlook was lowered to negative from stable by Moody’s Investors Service on concern that political gridlock will constrain efforts to tackle the biggest debt burden of any nation.

Economic and fiscal policies “may not prove strong enough to achieve the government’s deficit reduction target and contain the inexorable rise in debt,” Moody’s said in a statement today. The rating is Aa2, the company’s third highest. Standard & Poor’s cut its rating last month to fourth highest.

Today’s move adds pressure on Prime Minister Naoto Kan as his public approval rating slides and he struggles to secure lawmakers’ support for measures to reduce debt, including a possible sales-tax increase. Japanese shares accelerated declines after the announcement and amid tensions in the Middle East. The Nikkei 225 Stock Average slid 1.8 percent today.

“Politicians will take today’s announcement as a warning sign, but their biggest priority right now isn’t Japan’s fiscal health — it’s maintaining their seats in parliament,” said Yoshimasa Maruyama, a senior economist at Itochu Corp. in Tokyo. “Japan can’t sustain its borrowing needs without real tax hikes. The more the government delays this, the more its debt burden’s going to swell. We’re running out of time.”

The risks to Japan’s credit rating are “predominantly on the downside,” Thomas Byrne, senior vice president at Moody’s, said at a Tokyo news conference today.

Financing Budget

The dollar traded at 83.10 yen as of 5:38 p.m. in Tokyo compared with 83.14 in New York yesterday.

Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda told reporters he won’t comment on decisions by private rating companies. Japan needs to maintain fiscal discipline and push ahead with efforts to make its finances healthy, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said at a regular news conference today.

Moody’s also lowered the credit-rating outlook for Japan’s three largest banks to negative from stable, saying “the government debt rating is a key input into the supported senior unsecured ratings for the Japanese banks.” The change relates to long-term debt at the banking units of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc., Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. and Mizuho Financial Group Inc.

The cut by Standard & Poor’s last month was the company’s first in nine years for Japan and reduced the nation’s rating to AA-, on a par with China.

Political Opposition

Kan’s task of securing legislation to finance the national budget for the year starting April 1 is more difficult because the opposition controls the upper house of parliament. Sixteen lawmakers in his party last week vowed to oppose a plan to increase the sales tax, further complicating his efforts to pass the budget-related bills.

The prime minister’s public approval rating fell to 20 percent in an Asahi newspaper survey taken Feb. 19-20, down 6 percentage points from January and the lowest since he took office in June, the paper reported yesterday.

There is “increasing uncertainty over the ability of the ruling and opposition parties to fashion an effective policy reform response to the debt and growth challenges,” Moody’s said in today’s statement.

Fitch Affirms Rating

Fitch Ratings affirmed its AA- rating for Japan, with a stable outlook, in an e-mailed statement today.

Japan’s gross domestic product contracted in the fourth quarter and the nation was overtaken last year by China as the second-biggest economy.

The nation faces “chronic deflationary pressures” and can’t grow its way out of debt, making fiscal adjustments essential for mending its finances, Moody’s said. At the same time, Japan’s large economy and deep financial markets can help the nation withstand shocks and the ratings company doesn’t see any funding crisis “in the near- to medium-term.”

A downgrade could be triggered by a failure to push through tax reform, a swing to a current-account deficit, or a drop in household savings cutting the domestic appetite for government debt, Moody’s indicated.

While Moody’s could keep Japan’s Aa2 rating, “the risks are predominantly on the downside unless there are very good results for the tax reform program and also good results for the government’s efforts to revitalize economic growth,” Byrne said.

Japan’s public debt is set to exceed twice the size of the economy this year and reach 210 percent of gross domestic product in 2012, the highest among countries tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, compared with an estimated 101 percent for the U.S.

The debt will probably swell to 997.7 trillion yen ($12 trillion) in the year starting April 1, Japan’s Finance Ministry said last month. When Standard & Poor’s lowered its rating, the company said the government lacks a “coherent strategy” for tackling the debt.

China’s Renminbi Heads for Floating Exchange Rate

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

It was announced earlier this week that China has launched its Yuan for free trade in the open market. China has managed to keep the value of the Yuan, also know as the Renminbi, at a depreciated value, which some analysts argue is undervalued by up to 40%. The Bank of China’s decision to move towards a floating exchange rate, though still tightly controlled, offers hope to those who believe China’s weak currency policy is the root cause of the global economic imbalance. The gradual inflation of the Renminbi may help take away China’s disproportionate advantage in export goods and bring jobs back to the US.

Call it liberalization by a thousand cuts.

 

The Bank of China, one of the country’s main state-owned lenders, is now allowing American firms to trade in renminbi, another step in China’s effort to position the renminbi on the world stage.

 

In July, China started a renminbi settlement system for cross-border trade in Hong Kong, but it placed limits on how much currency could be exchanged.

 

Currency trading in the renminbi was already possible at other banks, but the move by a state-owned lender signals a shift in official policy.

 

The Chinese central bank bowed to international pressure last summer and agreed to make its currency more flexible; the renminbi is now allowed to move as much as 0.5 percent each day. At the same time, the country is cautiously pursuing a strategy of making the renminbi into an international exchange currency.

 

“China sees the global financial system as too U.S.-centric and dollar dependent,”’ said Robert Minikin, senior currency strategist at Standard Chartered in Hong Kong. “That created issues during the financial crisis.”

 

Now, he said, the country is trying to take a step away from that dependence. “Conditions are in place for sustained yuan appreciation against the U.S. dollar,’’ he said, predicting that it would increase by 6 percent this year, to 6.20 renminbi per dollar.

 

With a forecast for high inflation in the expanding Chinese economy, an appreciating currency could help the country dampen so-called imported inflation by making foreign goods less expensive.

 

With the Bank of China move, China is promoting the renminbi to Americans at a time when loose monetary policy on the part of the United States Federal Reserve has some concerned that the dollar’s value will continue to decline.

 

The Bank of China said in an announcement on the Web site of its New York branch that trading firms and individuals could now open accounts in renminbi, buying the currency from and selling it to the bank.

 

While the limits on personal accounts are $4,000 a day and $20,000 a year worth of renminbi, and those accounts are largely for the purposes of exchange and remittance, the bank is also soliciting business from trading firms.

 

China’s decision to keep the renminbi effectively pegged against the dollar at an exchange rate that favors its exports has long been a source of contention between Washington and Beijing. China’s trade surplus with the United States was $181 billion last year, a 26 percent increase from the previous year, The imbalance is likely to put further pressure on the exchange rate.

 

That said, the renminbi hit a new high of 6.6128 against the dollar on Wednesday, an auspicious prelude to a visit to Washington next week by China’s president, Hu Jintao.

 

Separately, the city of Shanghai said it was creating a new investment window, allowing qualified private equity firms to buy renminbi and invest in mainland companies. Reuters reported that the pilot project could grow to be worth $3 billion.

Goldman on the Irish Bailout…European Contagion

Monday, November 22nd, 2010


The Irish bailout being unveiled this week will determine the performance of both the Euro and the global equity markets.  Irish and Portuguese bond spreads had been widening over the past four weeks, since Ireland again became the focus of bearish investors.  Sources claim that the current bailout will be less than 100 billion euros, and will cover the entire country’s budget needs for the next three years.  Ireland’s current budget deficit is about 19 billion euros/year. The problem is that the Irish banking system may need more help than analysts expect.  The system has more than half a trillion in assets.  According to Reuters, the hole in the commercial real estate sector is greater than 25 billion Euros alone.  This does not include potential residential losses.

To make matters worse, a Irish debt resolution could also simply shift bearish speculation to Portugal according to Citigroup and Nomura.  According to Bloomberg, “Portugal’s bonds currently yield 6.88%, compared to 8.26% for Ireland and 11.62 % for Greece.” Growth in Portugal may slow to 0.2% in 2011, which could make the deficit worse and increase worries about the country’s sovereign debt.

Zero Hedge recently provided Goldman’s perspective on the Irish bailout: “For what it’s worth, here is Goldman’s take on the Irish bailout. Since it was Goldman’s endless currency swaps that allowed Europe to lie about their deficits and true debt levels, this should be interesting…

From Francesco Garzarelli

Earlier tonight, Ireland applied for conditional funding assistance and will therefore be the first Eurozone sovereign accessing the EU-IMF support framework instituted in May. The latest European Economics Analyst provides background. There are still several uncertainties surrounding the deal, including the government’s political support (a by-election is due this Thursday), and negotiations on the banks. The yield spread between 5-yr Irish government bonds and their German counterparts has fallen by around 100bp from the 600bp highs reached on 11 November. At this point, we see scope only for a further 50bp tightening. That said, we think that this represents an important step towards a resolution of EMU sovereign woes, and a gradual relaxation of the risk premium that has built up in Italy and Spain, and in Eastern Europe.

Main Points

According to EU sources quoted by the newswires, the size of the package will be in the region of EUR 80-90bn. But this has still to be finalized, including the implications, if any for the Irish banks’ debt.  The amount is broadly in line with our estimates, and can easily be covered. Consider that the EFSM is endowed with EUR 60bn and EFSF has borrowing capacity of EUR 428bn (the portion guaranteed by Germany and France amounts to EUR 220bn). Additional IMF funding is available for up to 50% of the total amount drawn from the EFSM/EFSF with a ceiling of EUR 250bn. Both the UK and Sweden have announced they stand ready to provide bi-lateral loans.
Discussions on the cost of funds are also underway. We expect the EFSF (AAA-rated) to borrow in the region of 2.5% at the 5-yr maturity.  Assuming the terms are in line to those applied to Greece (which should represent a ceiling, given the different credit position of the two countries), the funding cost to Ireland would be along these lines:

  • EFSM/EFSF: Up to 3-yr maturity, Euribor or fixed swap + 300bp; Above 3-yr, Euribor or fixed swap +400bp; 50bp handling fee; (3-mth Euribor is currently 97bp)
  • IMF: Up to 3-yr maturity, SDR rate + 200bp; Above 3-yr, SDR rate + 300bp; Commitment fee, 50bp (est.) + 50bp service charge; (the Euro SDR rate is linked to 3-mth Euripo and is currently around 26bp)
    Using these figures and under a no IMF funding hypothesis, the savings for Ireland relative to the secondary market rates as of last Friday’s close would be in the region of 100bp (notice that the ECB has been intervening in this market, and that this is not indicative of primary access costs).
  • Ireland April 2013 yields 6.30% (bid); corresponding Eurozone funding 2.00%+300bp=5.00%
  • Ireland April 2016 yields 7.40% (mid), corresponding Eurozone funding  2.40%+400bp=6.40%

These, we stress, should be taken as ceilings. A ballpark of 60-30 from the EFSM/EFSF and IMF would result in funding cost closer to 3.5% on a 3-yr horizon.

Broader Market Implications

As discussed in our notes over the past fortnight, and in our latest Fixed Income Monthly, EMU Spreads: Navigating the Issues, we are of the view that the activation of external help should not lead to an escalation of systemic risk as seen in the aftermath of the Greek multi-lateral ‘bail-out’. A pre-agreed institutional framework is now in place, and the ‘stress tests’ have provided information on the distribution of risks across the Euro-zone banking sector.

Other than the evolution of the Irish discussions (size of the package and terms), the near term focus will also remain the Iberian peninsula. A workers strike in Portugal this Wednesday will re-kindle the debate on the much needed structural reforms. Spain unveiled a list of these last Friday, but investors remain uncomfortable about the contingent liabilities stemming from the non-listed cooperative banks.

Our opinion is that Portugal remains a possible candidate for external help, should market pressures remain high. But its systemic relevance is much smaller than that of Ireland’s or Greece’s (the largest foreign creditor is Spain). We remain of the view that Spain is in a different debt sustainability position, and the depth of its domestic market should allow it to withstand market pressures.

We continue to recommend holding 30-yr Greek paper, and would look for opportunities to re-establish long positions in intermediate maturity Italian and Spanish government bonds relative to the ‘core’ countries.

Finally, it is worth recalling that the EFSF will not pre-fund, and its funding instruments will have broadly the same profile as the related loans to Ireland. Its issuance program could lead to a marginal cheapening of bonds issued by supra-national institutions such as the European Investment Bank, the German-based KfW and the French CADES. Note, however, that these institutions have borrowing programs of EUR 60-70bn per annum, while the corresponding annual EFSF issuance would be likely quarter of that amount.”

M2 Reaches $8.8 Trillion in the U.S., a Record!

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Monetary stimulus has driven M2 to $8.8 trillion for the first time in history, an inflationary signal….In response, Silver is currently at $26.80 per ounce, down from the peak of $29.00.  Most don’t realize that the commodity was trading at only $$18 in August; a poor man’s play on inflation. Futures are also moving sharply to the downside, in anticipation of Bernanke’s speech in Frankfurt today, defending monetary easing.


According to Zero Hedge, seasonally adjusted M2 has just surpassed $8.8 trillion for the first time, hitting a record $8,802.2 billion, a jump of $16 billion on a SA basis. This is the 17th out of 18 consecutive weeks that M2 has increased. On a non-seasonally adjusted basis, M2 also jumped to a record high, hitting $8,765 billion, a jump of $56.9 billion W/W, and an increase if just over $100 billion in the past two weeks alone.

While the jump itself is not surprising as it comes in anticipation, and realization, of QE2 (we would love to have the semantic and highly theoretical debate of whether or not the Fed “prints money” but will focus on the practical for now), the last week’s components of the M2 change were odd to say the least. In the past week we saw both the biggest drop in commercial banks savings deposits in 2010 ($61.3 billion) and the biggest jump in demand deposits ($57.6 billion).

Whether or not this is due to the recently adopted unlimited guarantee by the FDIC on demand deposits is unclear, however as the chart below shows this is certainly a very odd move, and is indicative that there has been a notable readjustment in the bank deposit base. The surge in demand deposits brings the total to $536.2 billion, an increase of $94 billion from the beginning of the year. And despits the drop, savings deposits are also markedly higher compared to the start of the year: at $4,336.7 billion, $337.8 billion higher than at the end of 2009. Whether this is a pull driven transfer, as banks need to replenish their deposit basis is also unknown. We will keep a close eye on this, as such a major reallocation of bank deposit liquidity has not occured in over a year.

In other news, according to Zero Hedge, “Futures are currently experiencing a stunning moment of weakness, something not seen unless the entire Liberty 33 trading crew is at Scores. The culprit according to the three sober traders we could track down is the recently speech to be delivered by the Bernank tomorrow in Frankfurt. In it, not too surprisingly, Bernanke considers revealing details of his most recent DNA sequencing result to prove once and for all, that he is not the antichrist. More relevantly, what Bernanke has done to defend his reputation is to claim that QE will work, and that everything is really mercantilist China’s fault, and the Fed is just woefully misunderstood. In other words nothing that has not been said before many times, just another overture which will likely precipitate a prompt round of Chinese retaliation in the form of accelerating trade wars, to be followed by further commodity price inflation in the US, leading to another ramp in Chinese inflation, etc. As Albert Edwards summarized, the global game of chicken will continue until either China’s or America’s population decides it has had enough of being treated like a experimental gerbil in the endgame of failed economic chess.

Some choice quotes from Bernanke’s speech:

On how the US’s slower growth rate is threatening America compared to the rest of the world:

Since the second quarter of this year, GDP growth has moderated to around 2 percent at an annual rate, less than the Federal Reserve’s estimates of U.S. potential growth and insufficient to meaningfully reduce unemployment.  The U.S. unemployment rate (the solid black line) has stagnated for about eighteen months near 10 percent of the labor force, up from about 5 percent before the crisis; the increase of 5 percentage points in the U.S. unemployment rate is roughly double that seen in the euro area, the United Kingdom, Japan, or Canada.

Of particular concern is the substantial increase in the share of unemployed workers who have been without work for six months or more (the dashed red line in figure 4). Long-term unemployment not only imposes extreme hardship on jobless people and their families, but, by eroding these workers’ skills and weakening their attachment to the labor force, it may also convert what might otherwise be temporary cyclical unemployment into much more intractable long-term structural unemployment. In addition, persistently high unemployment, through its adverse effects on household income and confidence, could threaten the strength and sustainability of the recovery.

On the USD exchange rate:

The foreign exchange value of the dollar has fluctuated considerably during the course of the crisis, driven by a range of factors. A significant portion of these fluctuations has reflected changes in investor risk aversion, with the dollar tending to appreciate when risk aversion is high. In particular, much of the decline over the summer in the foreign exchange value of the dollar reflected an unwinding of the increase in the dollar’s value in the spring associated with the European sovereign debt crisis. The dollar’s role as a safe haven during periods of market stress stems in no small part from the underlying strength and stability that the U.S. economy has exhibited over the years.

On Bernanke’s view that despite hopes for decoupling, the US is still the most critical driving force and should be allowed to get whatever it desires. If that means an export-led boost (and a low USD) so be it.

Fully aware of the important role that the dollar plays in the international monetary and financial system, the Committee believes that the best way to continue to deliver the strong economic fundamentals that underpin the value of the dollar, as well as to support the global recovery, is through policies that lead to a resumption of robust growth in a context of price stability in the United States.

Bernanke’s direct attack on China:

Given these advantages of a system of market-determined exchange rates, why have officials in many emerging markets leaned against appreciation of their currencies toward levels more consistent with market fundamentals? The principal answer is that currency undervaluation on the part of some countries has been part of a long-term export-led strategy for growth and development. This strategy, which allows a country’s producers to operate at a greater scale and to produce a more diverse set of products than domestic demand alone might sustain, has been viewed as promoting economic growth and, more broadly, as making an important contribution to the development of a number of countries. However, increasingly over time, the strategy of currency undervaluation has demonstrated important drawbacks, both for the world system and for the countries using that strategy.

On Bernanke’s virtuoso performance on the the world’s smallest violin:

The current system leads to uneven burdens of adjustment among countries, with those countries that allow substantial flexibility in their exchange rates bearing the greatest burden (for example, in having to make potentially large and rapid adjustments in the scale of export-oriented industries) and those that resist appreciation bearing the least.

And a direct confirmation of Edwards’ assumption that by allowing commodity price super inflation, Bernanke is in essence forcing China to revalue as the chairman knows that while the US may be expericing surging food prices, China is getting that too, and then some.

Third, countries that maintain undervalued currencies may themselves face important costs at the national level, including a reduced ability to use independent monetary policies to stabilize their economies and the risks associated with excessive or volatile capital inflows. The latter can be managed to some extent with a variety of tools, including various forms of capital controls, but such approaches can be difficult to implement or lead to microeconomic distortions. The high levels of reserves associated with currency undervaluation may also imply significant fiscal costs if the liabilities issued to sterilize reserves bear interest rates that exceed those on the reserve assets themselves. Perhaps most important, the ultimate purpose of economic growth is to deliver higher living standards at home; thus, eventually, the benefits of shifting productive resources to satisfying domestic needs must outweigh the development benefits of continued reliance on export-led growth.

Bernanke’s conclusion for how to spank China:

it would be desirable for the global community, over time, to devise an international monetary system that more consistently aligns the interests of individual countries with the interests of the global economy as a whole. In particular, such a system would provide more effective checks on the tendency for countries to run large and persistent external imbalances, whether surpluses or deficits. Changes to accomplish these goals will take considerable time, effort, and coordination to implement. In the meantime, without such a system in place, the countries of the world must recognize their collective responsibility for bringing about the rebalancing required to preserve global economic stability and prosperity. I hope that policymakers in all countries can work together cooperatively to achieve a stronger, more sustainable, and more balanced global economy.

And by global economy, Bernanke of course means banker interests. Also, where he talks about other stuff, all Bernanke really means is that China should unpeg already goddamit, so that the $5 trillion in debt that has to be rolled in 2 years can start getting inflated already, cause we are cutting it close, and only China is staying in the way. Next up: China’s response. Might be time to stock up on Rare Earth Minerals again.”

Full Bernank speech.

Germany Agrees to Greek Bailout, Finally…As $27 Billion of Greek Loans Need to Be Refinanced

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

April 1, 2010: After months of tribulation and back and forth discussions, Germany admits that it is prepared to give Greece loans at below market rates.  Germany has been criticized for allowing the IMF, a U.S. backed institution to bail out Greece, instead of having the European Union take care of its own constituent.  Greek bonds have been trading at 400+ bps over the rate on German bonds, signaling a 17-20% chance of default.  Many feel that the bonds will not default, including PIMCO, and thus represent a great investment.  In this newest proposal, Germany would work with the IMF to give loans at below market rates, a lifeline for the nation.  Europe will provide more than 50% of the loans.  Greece needs to refinance $27 billion in loans within the next 2 months.

According to Bloomberg, “Germany is prepared to give Greece loans at below-market interest rates, dropping its opposition to subsidies as European finance ministers meet to discuss the terms of a lifeline for the debt-stricken nation, a European government official said.


The loans would be priced above the rate charged by the International Monetary Fund, which would also participate in an EU-led rescue, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Such an arrangement would satisfy German demands that Greece shouldn’t be given subsidized loans, the person said. EU finance ministers will hold a press conference after a teleconference that starts at 2 p.m. in Brussels today.

German resistance to subsidized loans threatened to hold up efforts to agree on a rescue package for Greece, whose bonds plunged last week. With German Chancellor Angela Merkel balking at the use of taxpayers’ funds, her government has said that the EU should stick to a March 25 agreement that credit to Greece should be at “non-concessional” rates.

“They have to be given some help from Europe or the IMF at concessional rates,” billionaire investors George Soros said in an interview on Bloomberg Radio yesterday in Cambridge, England. “It is a make or break time for the euro and it’s a question whether the political will to hold Europe together is there or not.”

European Commission spokesman Fabio Pirotta couldn’t given an exact time for the press briefing by the eurogroup, which also includes European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet. Ministers may today agree to the formula for calculating the loans, the European government official said.

Terms of Agreement

Under the terms of the March accord, Europe would provide more than half the loans and the IMF the rest, which would be triggered if Greece runs out of fund-raising options. UBS AG economists estimate Greece will need to seek emergency funding to make bond payments and cover debt refinancing of more than 20 billion euros ($27 billion) in the next two months.

The yield on Greek 10-year bonds surged 60 basis points this past week, driving it to a record 7.364 percent on April 8. Any IMF loans to Greece may cost around 3.26 percent. The premium investors demand to buy Greek 10-year bonds instead of German bunds jumped to 442 basis points April 8, before sliding to 398 basis points a day later.

The euro, which has dropped 6 percent against the dollar this year, rose 1 percent to $1.35 on April 9 as speculation about an aid package mounted.

German Resistance

Overcoming German resistance to subsidized loans came amid mounting speculation that that a bailout was imminent. UBS says it could come this weekend as Fitch Ratings cut Greece’s debt rating yesterday to BBB-, just one level above junk. Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has argued that he needed below- market borrowing costs to cut EU’s-biggest budget deficit.

Papaconstantinou said April 9 that Greece still wasn’t seeking EU aid and would make good on its pledge to trim its deficit from about 13 percent last year, more than 4 times the EU limit, to 8.7 percent this year.

Greece needs to raise 11.6 billion euros to cover debt that is maturing before the end of May and plans to sell bonds to U.S. investors in the coming weeks. The country’s debt agency said yesterday it would offer 1.2 billion euros of six-month and one-year notes on April 12.

Greece’s long-term foreign and local currency issuer default ratings were on April 9 cut two levels to BBB-, the same level as Bulgaria and Panama, from BBB+ by Fitch Ratings. The outlook is negative, Fitch said, citing delays in agreeing to an aid package.

Confidence ‘Undermined’

“The lack of clarity regarding the mechanism for timely external financial support may have hindered Greece’s access to market finance at affordable cost and hence further undermined confidence in the capacity of the government to meet its fiscal targets,” Fitch said in an e-mailed statement.

The Athens benchmark stock index rose for the first day in four on April 9 amid speculation that an aid package would soon be agreed. It fell 5 percent this week.

EU leaders, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the Herman Van Rompuy, president of the 27-nation bloc, expressed their readiness to provide aid two days ago.

“A support plan has been agreed and we are ready to activate at any moment to come to the aid of Greece,” Sarkozy said.”

Vietnamese GDP Grows 5.8%, Sharp Turnaround!

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010


Economic growth in Vietnam has doubled quarter over quarter, according to the country’s officials.  The country, known to be an outsourcing hub for Chinese manufacturing firms in the Guangdong province has been growing at a rapid pace.  These numbers are especially strong given that most businesses in Vietnam close during the 10 days of Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebration.  Analysts say that domestic demand is supporting the economy, while a weakening Dong may help boost exports.  The country has weakened its currency twice since last year.  Industry and construction accounted for 43% of economic activity this quarter.

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According to Mr. Folkmanis of Bloomberg, “Vietnam’s economic growth quickened to 5.83 percent in the first quarter from a year ago, buoyed by construction activity, tourism and banking services amid robust domestic demand.

Growth was almost twice as fast as 3.14 percent expansion in the same period last year, according to figures released by the General Statistics Office in Hanoi today. Gross domestic product expanded 5.3 percent last year, after accelerating to 6.9 percent in the fourth quarter.

“Bearing in mind that most businesses in Vietnam close in the first quarter for at least 10 days during Tet, these figures are a good base for strong full-year growth,” said Kevin Snowball, chief executive of PXP Vietnam Asset Management in Ho Chi Minh City, referring to the Lunar New Year holidays in mid- February.

Domestic demand is supporting the economy as the government tries to stimulate exports after the global slowdown reduced demand for Vietnamese-made products. A weakening dong may help boost overseas sales, strengthening growth through the rest of the year, according to Standard Chartered Plc.

Industry and construction accounted for 43 percent of the economy in the first quarter, expanding 5.65 percent from a year earlier. In the same period last year, the gain was 1.7 percent.

Services Growth

Services expanded 6.64 percent from a year earlier after increasing 4.95 percent in the first quarter of 2009. They made up 42 percent of GDP. Hotels and restaurant business advanced 7.82 percent, as the number of foreign visitors to Vietnam jumped 36 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier. Financial services grew 7.86 percent.

“Much of the growth was generated domestically, since exports were still contracting in the first quarter,” Tai Hui, Singapore-based head of Southeast Asian economic research at Standard Chartered, wrote in a research note. “The government’s 6.5 percent growth target is within reach, as exports are likely to improve gradually in 2010, becoming a more potent engine.”

The Southeast Asian economy’s full-year growth could reach 7 percent to 7.5 percent if the global economy continues to improve, PXP’s Snowball said.

Vietnam has devalued its currency twice since November. The dong traded at 19,090 as of 10:30 a.m. in Hanoi, 6.2 percent lower than before the first depreciation on Nov. 25. The benchmark VN Index fell 0.9 percent to 501.20, and the yield on the five-year note was little changed at 12.2 percent, according to Bank for Investment & Development of Vietnam.

Regional Recovery

The GDP figures come amid signs of a regional recovery. In the past week, Malaysia raised its growth forecast, Japan reported the biggest export jump in 30 years, and Taiwan said industrial production rose for a sixth month.

“We’re seeing a two-track recovery with Asia forging ahead of the rest of the world, and Vietnam has consistently been one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies,” said Matt Robinson, a Sydney-based economist for Moody’s Analytics Inc.

“Vietnam’s growth model has been focused on low costs and abundant labor, and the evidence suggests that that model has been more resilient over the past 18 months, when many people put higher-end consumer discretionary expenditure on hold,” Robinson said before the figures were released. Moody’s Analytics, a unit of New York-based Moody’s Corp., focuses on economic research and analysis.

Economic growth has been driven by foreign investment, a literate labor force and low-cost exports, according to research published by Daiwa Capital Markets last week, which cited construction as among the drivers of growth in recent years.

Construction Demand

An increase in credit growth to as much as 38 percent last year has had a “lagged effect” on the Vietnamese economy, according to Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd.

Construction grew 7.13 percent, according to the figures released today.

“We’re starting to see some increased demand in the construction industry,” said Alan Young, Haiphong-based chief operating officer of Australian-listed steelmaker Vietnam Industrial Investments Ltd.”