Thursday, 31 March 2011
1. In the next 6-12 months, Portuguese private banks are going to have to recapitalize. Judging from the noise they have made about this, they are very worried that they will not find the needed capital in Portugal. So, if there isn't private money out there to raise capital ratios in private banks by a few percentage points, how can there be enough money to buy 100% of the capital in one of the largest banks?
2. An answer is foreign capital. But then, let's be clear. Privatizing Caixa right now is not just putting it in private hands; it is putting it in private foreign hands. Is that what the people proposing it really want?
3. But even if that is so, I am skeptical that you could find a foreign group that would want to buy Caixa right now, and pay a decent price for it. The natural candidate, Spanish banks, have their hands full with their own problems. And with the amount of uncertainty about Portugal's economic prospects over the next two years, would anyone really be willing to invest this much money in the country?
So, I just don't see it.
I do see the opposite direction, where the government has to inject public capital into the private banks. And I don't have to think too hard to come up with several scenarios where this happens, some desirable, many not so.
Wednesday, 30 March 2011
This debate puzzles me. When I think of the big policy challenges in the Portuguese financial markets in the next 6-12 months, it is not privatizing the State bank that comes to my mind. Rather, it is whether or not to (partially) nationalize the private banks.
Same topic, opposite sign.
This is a figure from the latest Banco de Portugal's Economic Bulletin - Spring 2011: Projections for the Portuguese economy: 2011-2012, published yesterday.
A dramatic consequence of the increasingly negative Portuguese net international investment position as well as of the rise of our external credit interest rates: Banco de Portugal predicts that in 2011 the income account deficit will surpass the trade deficit (which never happened in the past, to the best of my recollections); and that in 2012 the income account deficit will amount to 7 percent of GDP.
In other words, a substancial part of our domestic income will be subtracted from national income, and therefore the nation's disposable income, in the foreseable future.
Even though we may get the (irrealistic, from my point of view) forecasted growth in net external demand that would avoid an even higher drop in GDP, a lot of that GDP will not be ours to consume or save.
A dramatic milestone for this country.
Friday, 25 March 2011
I wonder if the government and/or the parliament could impose a ban on hirings during the next few months (including the months just after the general election too)? Or at least demand greater transparency on those appointments? One idea could be to require state-owned firms to disclose on the web the names and CVs of the new appointees and their job and pay levels.
Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Tuesday, 22 March 2011
Friday, 18 March 2011
Wednesday, 16 March 2011
The "problem", of course, is that we aren't in the totalitarian world of "1984". Whoever is willing to spend a few minutes on the internet can easily expose many recent, glaring reversals in policy goals over a period of only a few months (for instance, here, here and here).
Even if one can leave aside issues about the strength of political convictions (which are irrelevant from the point of view of the hard-nosed international markets), questions about credibility become increasingly more pertinent: Can the European Commission (and/or Germany) really pretend to believe a program of reforms such as a 17-slide PEC IV which, at least in some areas, is in complete contradiction with what were regarded as fundamental principles for many years up to just a few months ago?
Monday, 14 March 2011
1. Increase public sector employment
2. Rule out temporary jobs, “recibos verdes” and traineeships
3. Cut dismissal costs for all permanent jobs
4. Cut dismissal costs for new permanent jobs
5. Merge temporary and permanent jobs into a new, single contract type
Sunday, 13 March 2011
Only workers aged 25 to 35 and with a university degree are considered, a total of about 220,000 people. 35% of these workers are found to be on temporary contracts.
Saturday, 12 March 2011
Friday, 11 March 2011
Thursday, 10 March 2011
Alvaro Santos Pereira:
Absolutely. There is no doubt in my mind that Portugal will be bailed out, whether that is done through the “conventional” means that have been used by Greece and Ireland, or whether Europe gets its act together and agrees on a permanent framework to deal with these situations (a big if, indeed). Still, in both instances, Portugal needs to solve rapidly the acute liquidity shortage that threatens to dampen even more the country’s economic activity.
Why is a bailout almost inevitable? Because the credit constraints and the lack of financing of the economy are untenable, the debt dynamics are unsustainable, and because, frankly, there is a self-sustaining belief that Portugal is the next country to fall in the European sovereign debt domino.
Independently of what will happen in the next few days, the fact is that Portugal has a very serious debt problem in its hands, which will likely not go away with a mere bailout. Just to put things into perspective, in 2011, Portugal will have its highest public debt (as % of GDP) of the last 160 years, and the largest external debt in the last 120 years. Our public debt will be higher than 91% of GDP, and that does not even include the debt of public enterprises or the future debt already committed with the private-public partnerships that substituted for public investment in the last decade. In addition, the country’s gross external debt amounts to more than 240% of GDP, and net external debt is around 110% of GDP. The economy has not grown significantly in the last decade, and there is no major indication (with the possible exception of exports) to make us believe that we are on a prelude for an unforeseen economic miracle. To make things worse, government policies have been close to disastrous, and have only aggravated Portugal’s economic ailments. In short, the situation is dire, and it is difficult to envision any scenario in which a bailout will not take place, even though the latter might not be enough to help resolve Portugal’s debt problems in the medium and long term.
The fact is that the only reason that has prevented Portugal to ask for a bailout are the political costs that will be associated with such a decision. Everyone in Portugal knows that as soon as the country is rescued, the government will (deservedly) fall and new elections will be scheduled. That is the sole reason that has made the Portuguese government so reluctant to activate the bailout mechanisms. It’s not national pride, it’s really high political costs. The prime-minister and the government don’t want to be judged by History for being responsible for the most serious financial crisis that Portugal has experienced since it was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1892. Alas, they are and they will. And, unfortunately for us, even their stubbornness will likely not be enough to prevent an more-than-probable bailout.
Yes it does. But no, thanks.
Where should we look at to find the answer?
The Government is not interested because it would have large political costs. So let’s look elsewhere.
The IMF is probably interested in the bailout, as they are part of its business. So, most analysts linked to the Fund say that it should be asked for. Merkel’s government follows this line of thought.
Would medium term average sovereign debt interest rates be reduced with a bailout? Apparently that was not the case with Greece and Ireland. Saying the sooner the better does not help either.
Portuguese bankers and those voices in Europe that favour the deepening of European integration are against. Bankers in Portugal fear the bailout because, they say, it would reduce (domestic and foreign) deposits. The pro-deepening people argue that a European response would be enough to curb interest rates on peripheral sovereign debt. Interestingly the head of the European rescue fund also says no, that it is not needed for now.
So, I guess that my reading of these different positions leads to the conclusion that at this stage the costs of a bailout would be higher than its benefits.
Pedro Pita Barros:
Portugal can benefit from a bail out. Is it essential? Not necessarily, depends on what price is to be paid for it. An Irish-like intervention will not help much. If that's what is on the table, then I would say no to the bail out. The bail out is worthwhile only if the discipline mechanism does not include to a considerable extent high interest rates.
Pedro S. Martins:
Yes. Things need to change as the current combination of high debt and high interest rates is clearly unsustainable. It's not equitable to burden young people and the future generations with so much debt and all the taxes that follow. The bail-out would mark a clear threshold in the management of the Portuguese economy and prompt much-delayed reforms that can restore productivity growth and ensure this decade will not be completely lost.
Paulo Trigo Pereira:
With 6% yields in 2 year sovereign bonds issued this Wednesday, Portugal has reached interest rate levels on sovereign debt that are unbearable. Although there are good signs that fiscal consolidation will reduce the primary balance in 2011 (mainly through the increase of tax revenues), part of this reduction will be offset by increase in debt interests so that public deficit will not decrease as much as it could.
GDP growth in 2011 is unpredictable, basically given the uncertainty on exports, but it is reasonable to assume a recession this year around 1%, and since fiscal consolidation will have to continue in 2012, a close to zero growth in 2012. Under this scenario, unemployment rate will keep its actual two digits, and long term yields, with or without bail out (see the cases of Greece and Ireland), will remain above 7% in the next two years starting to decline in the second half of 2012, when (and if) there are good signs that reduction of public deficit is sustainable and will continue in 2013. Available data suggests that we are in a consolidation path, but some time is needed to gain credibility.
Under this framework it seems wise to have immediate access to the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) covering most of our gross borrowing requirements for the next two years, while yields would remain high. The exact amount will depend on the expected privatization revenues over these two years.
The access to the EFSF should be carefully worked out with a reasonable agreement not only with respect to the yields (around 5% is acceptable), but also all the “package” of measures that will be included in the memorandum of understanding.
Finally, a bail out has to be demanded by the prime minister, and domestic political debate has mixed this demand with a political crisis and general elections. The two issues should be disentangled. And in order to do so a political agreement should be set between the government and the main political party.
A development of this argument will be set out in my “Público” article this Friday 11th March (in Portuguese). Simulations of savings in interests having access to EFSF, with two scenarios, done by myself and João Duque will be presented at Instituto Superior de Economia e Gestão, Friday 11th at 6pm in Auditório 2 (Rua do Quelhas).
Thursday, 3 March 2011
Traineeships are a form of investment in one's human capital - even if trainees are not paid, they may be better off given the gains in experience, networks, signaling/screening, etc. Why make it more costly for employers to take on trainees? Why risk pricing out many more youngsters from the labour market?
Tuesday, 1 March 2011
This is a notable effort (by Paulo Guimaraes and Miguel Portela) in compiling and disseminating information about the work done by Portuguese economists (and non-Portuguese economists based in Portugal) in pushing the frontiers of knowledge in the "dismal science".
According to the website, there's somewhat surprising evidence that 2010 was a not very good year in terms of academic results, given the upward trend starting in the mid-1980s. But perhaps this is only a one-off blip (or, alternatively, 2008 and 2009 were one-off spikes):
Here's the list of top 10 economists, according to one of the many criteria (summing all research contributions since 1970 and weighting each article using a combination of metrics):
1: Sergio Rebelo, Northwestern U
2: Luis Cabral, New York U
3: Pedro Pita Barros, U Nova
4: Miguel Villas-Boas, U CA, Berkeley
5: Nuno Garoupa, U Illinois
6: Alfredo Marvão Pereira, Col William & Mary
7: João Santos Silva, U Essex
8: Guilherme Carmona, U Nova
9: Nuno Limão, U Maryland
10: Pedro Portugal, U Nova
It's interesting to note that only three out of those ten economists are based in Portugal (and all of those are in the same university, Nova).