Monday, September 21, 2015

GCC credit cycle at tipping point; Fraud, fools and financial crises; Why India is concerned about Nepal's constitution

1 GCC credit cycle at tipping point (Issac John in Khaleej Times) Corporate and infrastructure companies in the Gulf Cooperation Council face a weaker operating environment as governments reduce spending on the back of lower oil prices, which have more than halved since June 2014, Standard and Poor's ratings services has said.

"Reflecting this weak economic climate, debt issuance by corporate and infrastructure companies has fallen by 58 per cent in the past 12 months to about $7 billion. This also reflects our view that the credit cycle has reached a potential tipping point, with higher pricing anticipated going forward," the ratings agency said in its latest analysis.

S&P said there are various factors that could tempt existing and new issuers to tap the capital markets over the coming year. These include the gradually declining availability of liquidity at the local banks, the opening up of markets to foreign investment - such as the Tadawul in Saudi Arabia, along with the Iranian market if the nuclear deal with the P5+1 progresses as expected - and the refinancing by government-related entities in 2016.

It noted that energy subsidy cuts by Bahrain, Oman, and the UAE governments could increase financial pressures on downstream corporates in the region. World oil prices have dropped by more than 50 per cent since June 2014. S&P expects Brent crude oil prices to remain at about $50 per barrel for the time being, which would prompt governments to postpone or delay some projects.

The International Monetary Fund forecasts that the oil price dip would result in a $300 billion drop in revenues this year for the six GCC states. Globally, energy industry players had already cancelled $200 billion in investments over the past few months in the wake of the oil price plunge. 

A Barclays survey found that oil companies worldwide shed about 20 per cent of their capital budgets to $521 billion this year and will cut another three per cent to eight per cent from their investments next year, marking the first time since the mid-1980s that oil companies will reduce spending two years in a row.

2 Fraud, fools and financial crises (Robert Shiller in The Guardian) Adam Smith famously wrote of the “invisible hand,” by which individuals’ pursuit of self-interest in free, competitive markets advances the interest of society as a whole. And Smith was right: free markets have generated unprecedented prosperity for individuals and societies alike. But, because we can be manipulated or deceived or even just passively tempted, free markets also persuade us to buy things that are good neither for us nor for society.

This observation represents an important codicil to Smith’s vision. And it is one that George Akerlof and I explore in our new book, Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception. Most of us have suffered “phishing”: unwanted emails and phone calls designed to defraud us.

A “phool” is anyone who does not fully comprehend the ubiquity of phishing. A phool sees isolated examples of phishing, but does not appreciate the extent of professionalism devoted to it, nor how deeply this professionalism affects lives. Sadly, a lot of us have been phools – including Akerlof and me, which is why we wrote this book.

Routine phishing can affect any market, but our most important observations concern financial markets – timely enough, given the massive boom in the equity and real estate markets since 2009, and the turmoil in global asset markets since last month.

We found out many years ago, to the world’s great regret, what happens when a financial epidemic is allowed to run its course. Our analysis indicates that not only are there endemic and natural forces that make the financial system highly volatile; but also that swift, effective intervention is needed in the face of financial collapse. We need to give free rein to fiscal and monetary authorities to take aggressive steps when financial turmoil turns into financial crisis. One Dark Age is one too many.

3 Why India is concerned about Nepal’s constitution (Sanjoy Majumder on BBC) Nepal's adoption of a new federal constitution is being watched warily across the border by its giant neighbour India. The document defines the majority Hindu nation as a secular republic divided into seven federal provinces.

Although Delhi was one of the major backers of the process over the past decade, it believes the new constitution is not broad-based and is concerned that it could spur violence which could spill over into its own territory. Reports in Indian media say that its ambassador in Kathmandu spoke to Prime Minister Sushil Koirala hours before Sunday's constitution ceremony to express Delhi's disappointment at the process going through.

India's concern has been with the violent reaction to the constitution in the low-lying southern plains, adjoining India, the Terai. Communities living in the Terai, especially the Madeshis and the Tharu ethnic minorities, have expressed concern that the proposed boundaries of the new provinces could lead to their political marginalisation.

The two groups make up nearly 40% of Nepal's population and the Madeshis share close ethnic ties with people in India. Prof SD Muni, a strategic analyst who closely follows events in Nepal, says “India's concern is genuine because whatever happens in the Terai will spill over into India. So the violence is really worrying."

India shares a 1,751km-(1,088 miles)-long open border with Nepal through which people pass freely but which has often concerned the country's security agencies because of its use by smugglers, human traffickers and terror suspects.

And then there is China, India's regional bugbear. In recent years, China has been ramping up its involvement in Nepal mainly through economic engagement much to India's discomfort in what it considers its backyard. It is also wary of China's links with Nepal's Communists, never mind that most of its leadership has either been schooled in India or has spent many years in exile in this country.

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