Daniel Stanley, Option Trader at London-based foreign exchange specialists Global Reach Partners
To borrow from one of most famous lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, something is rotten in the state of Spain today. Catalonian political figures being arrested and hauled before courts in Madrid on charges of rebellion and sedition or fleeing Spain to avoid such a fate are not the usual occurrences within a modern western democracy, especially one which is a fully- fledged member of the European Union.
Regardless of any leanings towards or against Catalonian independence (or a complete indifference about it), the recent events in Spain are a real concern for the wider European and international community.
The reaction of Spain’s national government after the Catalonian leadership staged what was deemed to be an illegitimate referendum can only be described as heavy-handed. What is undoubtedly a significant political disagreement with one of its regional authorities was met with physical violence from police and the might of the country’s judiciary system. These unfortunate actions are having an adverse impact in many areas, not least the value of the Euro.
In early October, where around 90 per cent of Catalans who participated voted for independence, the Euro fell by 0.6 per cent against the dollar to approximately $1.174, one of its lowest levels since mid-August. Market analysts, who predicted at this point that the referendum would likely start a new phase of political instability for the EU, have so far been provedright. After making a small recovery, the Euro once again fell against the dollar later in the month when the Catalan regional assembly voted to leave Spain.
With the Madrid government branding the declaration illegal and Spain’s Supreme Court now pursuing rebellion charges against Catalonia’s ousted leadership, including the former regional president Carles Puigdemont, who knows what further adversity may follow. The EU’s failure to take any sort of action so far is not helping matters.
The Euro remained strong after the UK’s Brexit vote but the current Spanish crisis along with the recent German elections, which saw an unexpectedly strong showing from the right wing AfD, are now threatening to destabilise all that.
Events in Spain are worrying enough for the EU but they are also currently masking two other elephants in the room, namely Greece and Italy. While the media focus on these countries may have gone quiet for the moment, both have failed to meet fiscal reforms and austerity measures, all of which has real potential to trigger a serious economic crisis throughout the Euro-zone. Despite their dire predicament, both countries have managed to get funds, saving them from defaulting, but this situation is not viable in the longer run.
Italian banks are facing a crisis similar to the one which hit US and UK banks in 2008, sitting with around $400 billion in bad loans on their balance sheets. The country’s weak growth is making it difficult to address the problem. Meanwhile, the pain of reforming its economy continues to be inflicted upon Greece with questions still lingering as to whether it may still have to leave the single currency to free it from its current cycle of unmanageable debt.
These factors, along with Spain, have real potential to continue driving down the value of the Euro with wider global implications. Here in the UK, where manufacturing exports into the EU have recently soared on the back of a low Pound, a sustained fall in the single currency presents a major threat. While Spain itself only imports 4.1 per cent of its goods and services from the UK, its current actions threaten Britain’s trading position with all countries in the Euro-zone, including larger markets like Germany and France.
Any further pressure on the value of the Euro could see orders from these and all other EU countries decrease. This could also impact on the UK’s tourism sector, which had enjoyed a post-Brexit boost in 2016. Last year 25.3 million EU visitors came to the UK, up four per cent on 2015, a rise which was partly attributed to the weak Pound against the single currency.
A fall in the Euro is, of course, not all bad news for UK business. It presents an opportunity to lower costs for those which source goods in the EU or have employees based there. It is, however, vital that companies implement a robust and comprehensive risk-management strategy to minimise their exposure to foreign currency movements which often result from political uncertainty such as we are seeing in Spain.
Businesses with foreign currency requirements, especially those which trade across the UK and within EU nations, need to look at how they can best conduct their transfers strategically to manage their exposure and secure profitability. The starting point for developing such a strategy is to clearly understand what their level of exposure is in terms of currency movement. From there they can set out an appropriate budget rate and create a suitable hedging plan. Using a combination of forward contracts, spot deals and orders according to such a strategy can provide certainty and protection, shielding their bottom line and maximising the funds they receive.
No Shakespearian prose can gloss over what is currently happening in the rotten ‘state of Spain.’ With potential for the negative repercussions of this crisis and others looming within the EU to be felt far and wide, it’s important for businesses to safe-guard themselves and their exposure to foreign currency fluctuations which seem likely in the weeks and months ahead.
Guarantor loans surge to top of UK financial complaints chart
By Huw Jones
LONDON (Reuters) – Complaints about guarantor loans by companies such as Amigo soared last year, eclipsing grievances over payment protection insurance (PPI) that have dominated for more than a decade, Britain’s Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) said on Wednesday.
Consumers have turned to loan providers since last March as lockdowns to fight the COVID-19 pandemic strained their finances.
“For more than a decade, the Financial Ombudsman Service received an unprecedented number of complaints about PPI. We’re now seeing thousands more complaints about credit – including about guarantor loans,” FOS said in a statement.
Guarantor loans require a friend or family member to guarantee they will take on repayments if the borrower falls behind. Complaints about this type of loan reached more than 10,000 in October to December, up from just over 300 in the same period a year before, the FOS said.
Complaints about other types of home credit jumped to over 6,000 from 430 over the same period.
The complaints about consumer loans usually focused on inadequate affordability checks, FOS said.
Amigo describes itself as Britain’s leader in guarantor loans. FOS said complaints about the company totalled 12,854 in the second half of 2020, up from 1,163 in the first half.
Amigo said it launched a scheme of arrangement, or court-approved compensation process, in January after receiving a high number of complaints last year.
“We are a new leadership team that wants to correct past mistakes in a way that is fair and equitable to all our customers – including our 700,000 past borrowers and guarantors,” Amigo said in a statement.
Provident Personal Credit Ltd was the second most complained about company, with 10,390 complaints in the second half of 2020, FOS said. Provident had no comment.
PPI became Britain’s costliest retail financial scandal that dominated FOS work until the final deadline for complaints passed in August 2019.
(Reporting by Huw Jones; editing by Barbara Lewis)
Sunak promises to do ‘whatever it takes’ to shield the economy
LONDON (Reuters) – British finance minister Rishi Sunak plans to say in a budget speech on Wednesday that he will do “whatever it takes” to support the economy, and that the task of fixing the public finances will only begin once the country is recovering from the COVID-19 crisis.
“We’re using the full measure of our fiscal firepower to protect the jobs and livelihoods of the British people,” Sunak will say, according to excerpts of the speech to parliament released by the finance ministry on Tuesday.
“First, we will continue doing whatever it takes to support the British people and businesses through this moment of crisis,” he said in the excerpts.
“Second, once we are on the way to recovery, we will need to begin fixing the public finances â€“ and I want to be honest today about our plans to do that. And, third, in today’s budget we begin the work of building our future economy.”
Britain has suffered the biggest COVID-19 death toll in Europe and the heaviest economic shock among big rich countries, according to the headline measures of official data, after shrinking by 10% last year, its worst slump in three centuries.
Sunak has so far spent almost 300 billion pounds ($419 billion) on emergency support measures and tax cuts.
But Britain has also rushed out Europe’s fastest COVID-19 vaccination programme, raising the prospect of an economic bounce-back once its current, third lockdown is relaxed.
Sunak said in media interviews on Sunday that he would not rush to start addressing Britain’s yawning budget deficit, which is approaching 400 billion pounds – its highest as a share of the economy since World War Two.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to lift lockdown measures gradually, starting with next week’s reopening of schools in England, before most measures are removed by late June.
Sunak is expected to announce an extension of his emergency support measures, including huge income subsidies that are on track to cost more than 100 billion pounds, to provide a bridge for the economy until then.
But he has also said he will “level with people” about how Britain’s 2.1 trillion-pound debt pile would carry on growing without action, which is likely to mean future tax increases.
(Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Catherine Evans)
UK gilt issuance to be second-highest on record at almost 250 billion pounds – Reuters poll
By Andy Bruce
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain is likely to sell nearly 250 billion pounds ($347 billion) of government bonds in the coming financial year – the second-highest total on record – to help power an economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, a Reuters poll of dealers showed on Tuesday.
The survey of all 15 wholesale primary dealers, or banks tasked by the government with creating a market for its bonds, pointed to gilt issuance of about 247.2 billion pounds for the 2021/22 financial year starting in April.
Such a sum marks a sharp drop from the 485.5 billion pounds of gilts that the United Kingdom Debt Management Office (DMO) plans to issue in the current 2020/21 year to finance the economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finance minister Rishi Sunak is due to deliver his budget around 1230 GMT on Wednesday, after which the DMO will publish its 2021/22 gilt issuance remit.
Sunak has said he would not rush to fix the public finances as he readies a budget, which will add more borrowing to almost 300 billion pounds of COVID-19 spending and tax cuts.
In November, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecast borrowing in 2020/21 would reach 393.5 billion pounds, or 19% of GDP, a peacetime record. The latest official data suggests borrowing will fall below this, partly because more taxpayers than expected have opted against deferring payments to 2021/22.
The poll showed Sunak is expected to announce a budget deficit forecast for 2021/22 of 180 billion pounds, 16 billion pounds more than the OBR had predicted in November.
“Our current estimate is that the latest lockdown will ‘cost’ around 16 billion pounds in terms of additional fiscal support,” said RBC economist Cathal Kennedy.
He cited the fact that more workers are now furloughed than the OBR had assumed in November, as well as expanded support for self-employed people and business grants announced in January.
In addition to the budget deficit, the government must also refinance 79.3 billion pounds of gilts due to mature in 2021/22.
As in the current year, much of the issuance will be soaked up by the Bank of England’s asset-purchase programme, which is due to buy around 100 billion pounds of government debt during the next financial year.
The poll suggested the government will finance borrowing almost entirely through gilts in the next financial year, rather than additional issuance of T-bills or via the government’s retail investment arm.
The DMO is likely to ramp up its issuance of inflation-linked gilts in 2021/22 to around 14% of the total, compared with 7% in the current financial year, the poll showed.
The DMO reined in sales of index-linked gilts through most of 2020 due to uncertainty caused by a review into the future of the retail prices index measure of inflation, which is used to price the bonds.
“Given pent-up demand, we think that this target is achievable,” said Deutsche Bank analysts Sanjay Raja and Panos Giannopoulos.
The dealers did not expect much change in the split between short, medium and long-dated gilts. Britain already has a longer average maturity for its debt than any other major economy, but the recent jump in global bond yields has prompted some commentators to say the DMO should do more to lock in low rates.
The government has also said it will issue the first “green gilts” – bonds to finance environmentally friendly projects – in 2021/22. Most respondents expect one or two bonds to be issued, of around 10 billion pounds in total.
(Reporting by Andy Bruce, editing by Larry King)
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