Pressure Builds Up In EU Following Italy’s Shocking Referendum Loss

This article was initially posted on The Ticker, Baruch College’s (the college I currently attend) independent, student-run newspaper.


After a defeat in a constitutional reform referendum, Italian Prime Minster Matteo Renzi has resigned as he previously promised in case of a “no” vote to the constitutional revision plan. This referendum was meant to strengthen Renzi’s hand by stripping the Senate of its many legislative powers and speeding up the decision-making process.

With 59.1 percent of the votes being “no,” an anti-establishment political force took control once again, following the example of the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s election. Renzi, a centrist, was accused of failing to restart the country’s flagging economy, which has barely grown since adopting the euro in 1999.

The referendum raises questions about Italy’s ability to work efficiently. Since 1946, Italy has had 41 different prime ministers and has gone through repeated political turmoils.

In response to the referendum, Brexit campaign leader Nigel Farage, who is also a vocal supporter of Donald Trump, tweeted, “This vote looks to me to be more about the euro than constitutional change.”

Parallel to Brexit and Trump’s victory, the Italian referendum showed voters the rhetoric of populist parties like the Five Star Movement, which campaigned against the constitutional reforms.

Renzi’s collapse comes after the defeat of a far-right candidate in Austria. It is a blow to the wave of anti-establishment anger across the western countries. Norbert Hofer, a far-right candidate from the Freedom Party of Austria, lost by seven points to independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen. While the far-right may have lost this election, the rise of populism is gaining the support of the Freedom Party for the next national election in Austria, set to be held before spring 2018.

Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s far-right Northern League, tweeted, “Viva Trump, viva Putin, viva la Le Pen e viva la Lega!” which translates to “Long live Trump, long live Putin, long live Le Pen and long live the Northern League!”

In addition to supporting the Trump presidency, the Five Star Movement and the Northern League favor rougher immigration policies. Both parties have promised to hold a referendum on Italy’s membership in the eurozone and renegotiate Italy’s public debt.

Markets have mostly cooled off from the aftershocks of the Brexit and the Italian referendum results, but elections in several key European countries next year’s might not make recovery easy for investors. Renzi’s departure could lead to an early election.

Italy is now another country on the list of European Union members that are likely to hold a general election in 2017, joining France, Germany, Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Italy’s election would be held in early 2017. The potential victory of the populist party will create uncertainty about the economic prospects of the eurozone’s third biggest member state.

Italy’s banking sector, currently with $4 trillion in assets, is suffering from low profitability, lack of economic growth, ultra-low interest rates and a surplus of bad loans. The FTSE Italia All-Share Banks Sector Index is also down 51 percent over the past year. A change in the government could mean further delays in solutions to the banks’ problems.

Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena — the world’s oldest and Italy’s third largest bank — recently failed the EU bank stress test.

The bank’s stock is down 83 percent since 2007 as bad loans progressively increase. The bank is now desperately looking to raise capital and sell 28 billion euros in bad loans.

The only solution Italy has at this moment is to “rely on the EU to provide more fiscal rescue packages, to prevent Monte Dei Paschi from becoming insolvent,” said Kenneth Tjonasam, the director of portfolio management at Baruch’s student-run fund, Investment Management Group.

Italy’s debt as a percentage of its gross domestic product stands at 133 percent, second only to Greece’s 183 percent. Unlike Greece, Italy is so-called “too big to fail,” as it is also the world’s third largest government bond market.

The French vote is also crucial. National Front Leader Marine Le Pen called Brexit a “victory for freedom,” and her party is leading strongly in the polls. The two-step election for Europe’s second largest economy is scheduled for April 23 and May 7, 2017.

Even if the Five Star Movement and the Northern League win the election, they still have to hold a referendum on Italy’s membership in the eurozone and actually win it. If they do, “Italexit” and “Frexit” could be enough to destroy the entire currency bloc.

Around the same time, British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to invoke Article 50, triggering a two-year countdown to Britain’s official exit from the European Union.

Even if the euro-skeptic parties fail to gain power, anti-establishment sentiments in the country will not go away.

“The Italy referendum ‘no’ vote is only a small speed bump to the ideal of a far-right movement that’s taking place across northern EU countries. The time frame to restore the Italians to path of stability, both politically and financially is uncertain,” Tjonasam added.

FinTech To Halt Or Grow After Brexit?

Silicon Valley is the fintech capital of the world. London is the fintech capital of Europe. After the Brexit vote, the rise of fintech in UK might be under a threat.

Total venture capital investment in technology for UK increased to over $3.6 billion in 2015, 71.43% increase from 2014. Of that, London-based tech start-ups accounted for 62.55%

Total VC Tech Investment Amounts UK/London 2010-2015
Total VC Tech Investment Amounts UK/London 2010-2015

In the last 5 years, UK technology companies have collectively raised $9.7 billion, with London-based companies accounting for 54.52% of it or $5.3 billion.

Since 2010, investment in the British firms soared over 12-fold, while investment in the London-based firms soared over 53-fold.

Brexit can halt the growth of UK fintech industry.

Why is that? UK could lose its “passport.”

Many companies in EU, including fintech, use mechanism known as “passporting” to access Europe (European Economic Area) by getting licensed in a EU nation and be able to sell their products/services across the bloc. If the passporting privilege is lost, companies will have to submit application in every single country it wishes to operate in, which is time consuming and cost prohibitive.

Not only fintech companies, but also international banks would have to find a new legal home base. Large U.S. banks, such as Goldman Sachs (GS), Citi (C), and JP Morgan (JPM), employing thousands of people, would have to move its operations to other cities, such as Paris or Frankfurt.

Fintech companies could take the same direction as the banks. It is possible they will move to Ireland (Dublin). Ireland is European home (EU base) to Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOGL, GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT), Dell, Twitter (TWTR), Airbnb, and more. The corporate tax rate, which is one of the most important part of Irish investment attraction, is 12.5%, one of the lowest in Europe. That’s very low compared to United Kingdom’s 20% rate and Europe average of 20.24%.

One other important part of Irish investment attraction is its KDB (Knowledge Development Box). Certain intellectual propriety income, such as patent/copyright, are subject to just 6.25% tax, half of its famous 12.5% corporate tax rate. Not only that, but there is also 25% tax credit for research and development spending.

The KDB is clearly aimed at incentivizing innovate R&D. It provides 50% deduction in tax rate from qualifying profits. In other words, 50% allowance. No wonder so many U.S. tech companies are using Ireland as their European base.

In Europe, overall fintech investment increased 120% between 2014 and 2015. The number of deals increased by 51%. Both should continue to increase as states like Ireland continue to attract start-ups and talent. However, if UK files for Article 50 and other EU members plans to follow the same path, it is very possible the increased uncertainty over the EU cartel will scare away start-ups and international investors.

There’s also the issue of free movement of labor. One in three UK start-up workers are outsiders. Of the 34% workers from outside the UK, 20.7% are from the EU. 66% hold UK passport. The most common non-UK nationalities were Irish, American, and Spanish.

Brexit is likely to make it costlier and complicated for start-ups to attract and retain talent. Will the UK allow the free movement of labor? I don’t think so. One-third of leave voters stated the main reason for wanting to leave the EU “offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders.” Plus, other EU members, such as Ireland, probably want start-ups and talents to come to their cities, not stay in the UK.

In 2014, financial and related services employed nearly 2.2 million people, 7% of the UK workforce. The industry contributed 11.8% of UK economic output in 2014. London, the financial center of the UK and the world, accounted for 714,000 of the employment.

The British fintech firms employ about 61,000 people (2015 data), 2.8% of the financial and related services employment and 5.7% of financial services employment (both of which 2014 data).

The stakes are definitely high here.

Peer-to-peer (P2P), money-transfer and payments start-ups would be hardest hit by Brexit and by the end of EU passporting.

In April 2015, London-based P2P lending company, Funding Circle secured the largest single deal of the year with a $150 million funding, valuing the startup at over $1 billion, going straight into the “unicorn” club, private companies valued at $1 billion or more. The company is online marketplace that allows investors to lend money to small and medium-sized businesses.

European Investment Bank (EIB) recently announced it would the platform to make 100 million pounds ($133.3 million) loans to UK firms. 20% of UK’s fintech firms focus on credit and lending, which P2P falls under. UK has 74.3% share of the whole EU alternative finance market, which particularly includes online alternative finance, from equity-based crowdfunding to P2P business lending and more.

In 2014, UK P2P business lending market size was 998 million euros ($1.1 trillion), 42.70% of total UK alternative finance market size. As I said above, “The stakes are definitely high here.”

Brexit could reduce lending, especially to 5.4 million small businesses in the UK accounting for 99.3% of all private sector business. Collectively small businesses account for 50% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and 60% of employment.

Many of these businesses will encounter financial problems, leading to layoffs of employees and so on (domino effect).

In addition to above, money-transfer and payments start-ups could also be hit hard as they will lose their “passporting” privilege. 54% of UK fintech firms focus on banking and payments. To sum up what I said about “passporting” above, if you’re regulated in UK, you’re regulated across the EU.

Other EU members, such as Ireland, will try to use Brexit to their advantage. They will try to make its laws more attractive to entice fintech firms away from London.

There is also chance the UK will get to keep its fintech firms, only if it differentiates itself with streamlined regulation, tax breaks, and increased support for innovation.

The UK will have to renegotiate the financial regulation with the EU. But I don’t believe they will get what they want. EU is already playing hard-ball. UK has more to lose than the EU.

Article 50 won’t likely be triggered until late this year or early next year. If by then, anti-Brexit campaign gains momentum and the presence of pro-remain politicians increase in the UK government, it is likely UK will not leave EU.

Feel free to read my previous article, Pros and Cons of Brexit.

If you have any views, I would love to know in the comments below. If you have any questions about any issues related to Brexit, I would be happy to answer them ASAP. Don’t be surprised if the answer is 5 paragraphs long. Thank you.

Pros and Cons of Brexit

On June 23rd, Britain people will vote to stay in or leave (Brexit) the European Union. The verdict matters a lot since it is a life-changing decision. I will briefly address some of the pros and cons of Brexit, but will further address it after the vote, especially if UK leaves EU.

Brexit Pros:

  • The European Union costs United Kingdom 350 million pounds ($503 million) a week. That’s $26.2 billion a year, 4.6 times less the UK education budget of $121.1 billion in 2015. That $26.2 billion is 1% of 2015 GDP of $2.63 trillion. That $26.2 billion is 2.45% of 2015 total spending of $1.07 trillion.

Note: That 350 million pounds a week cost is before “the rebate.” In 2015, Britain actually paid under 250 million ($359 million) pounds a week. But hey, UK does not control the rebates. The cost of membership has been increasing over the years, especially after the financial crisis.

UK Payments To EU Budget Since 1973
UK Payments To EU Budget Since 1973

What happened with Greece and is still happening, is a warning sign of more economic troubles to come in Europe. That possibly will continue to increase the cost of EU membership.

  • Under EU fundamental right of free movement, Britain cannot prevent anyone from another member state coming in to the country. This has resulted in a huge increase in immigration into Britain from Europe.

In 2015, 270,000 EU citizens immigrated to the UK and 85,000 EU citizens emigrated aboard. Net-migration was 185,000.

Migration By Nationality
Migration By Nationality

2.94 million people living in the UK in 2014 were citizens of another EU member country. Those people account for 4.7% of the UK population.

2.2 million citizens of another EU member country are in work, 7.02% of working population. Majority of EU member citizens are coming to the UK for work reasons. 61% of the migration who came for work reasons were EU citizens.

Immigration To The UK By Main Reason
Immigration To The UK By Main Reason

See how EU citizens coming to the UK for work reason started to accelerate in 2013. This can be related to economic difficulties such as Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy. As I mentioned above, “What happened with Greece and is still happening, is a warning sign of more economic troubles to come in Europe.” That should lead to even more upsurge in migration for work reason, making it more competitive for UK citizens to find jobs and possibly lowering wages.

If UK decides to leave EU, the country would be able to reform immigration laws without input from the EU and increase jobs and wages for UK citizens (hopefully they have the skills).

Brexit Cons:

  • EU membership makes UK attractive for international investment and provides access to trade deals with more than 50 countries around the world (expensive makeup, isn’t it?). Because EU institutions have the ability to prevent the UK from negotiating its own trade deals outside Europe, it would have to re-negotiate some trade deals, with EU and non-EU countries including the US, China, Japan and India. It is extremely possible the Brexit will impair confidence and investment for few years.

In 2015, the EU accounted for (pdf download) 43.7% of exports and 53.1% of imports

In 2014, the EU accounted for 496 billion pounds ($712 billion) of the stock of inward Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), 48% of the total. Globally, the UK is the third largest country in terms of its absolute value of inward FDI stock ($1.7 trillion), followed by China ($2.7 trillion) and U.S. ($5.4 trillion).

Why is FDI so important? It has the potential for job creation and productivity, increasing both output and wages.

If UK were to leave EU, it would dampen FDI due to uncertainty of the future. Firms would reduce investment in UK, leading to lay offs and so on (domino effect).

3.3 million UK jobs are linked to UK exports to other EU countries. Auto industry would be particularly at risk. In 2015, 77.3% of cars built in the UK were exported, a record high. EU demand grew 11.3%, with 57.5% of exports destined for the continent. In 2014, the motor vehicle manufacturing accounted for 7.9% (pdf download) of total manufacturing, up from 5.4% in 2007. The end of free trade agreements would definitely hurt UK automotive industry.

If UK were to leave the Single Market (EU), locating production in the UK would be less attractive because it would become more costly to ship to EU members. 77% of members of SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) – the voice of the UK motor industry – believes remaining in EU would be the best for their business. 9% believes Brexit is the best path. 14% doesn’t know, like economists don’t know the real impact of Brexit due to a large base of issues and views.

66% believes EU important to them because of its access to EU automotive markets.

Why The EU Is Important To SMMT Members
Why The EU Is Important To SMMT Members

Brexit would send a ripple effect. For the government (less tax revenue), for businesses (rising costs) and for consumers (lower income).

There’s also the issue of UK citizens in the other EU member countries. They have the right to live, work, vote, run a business, buy a property, and use public services such as health. Some, if not all, of these rights could vanish if UK leaves the EU.

Sure, UK will try to protect them. Since one of the main goals of Brexit is stop the inflows of immigrants into UK from EU, EU might retaliate against it.

UK (the wife) has been married to EU (the husband) for 43 years (UK joined EU in 1973). Part of her wants to get out of the cage. Other part of her wants to keep some of the benefits. If Brexit, it will be very expensive and messy divorce, but may be for the good.

 

There are so many views on this “monumental” and “out-of-focus” complicated issue. Not every issue is covered in this article. If UK is the first country to leave EU, I will do much more research and analyze it.

If you have any views, I would love to know in the comments below. If you have any questions about any issues related to Brexit, I would be happy to answer them ASAP. Don’t be surprised if the answer is 5 paragraphs long. Thank you.

European Central Bank Expands QE Program To 80 Billion Euros

This article was initially posted on The Ticker, Baruch College’s (the college I currently attend) independent, student-run newspaper. I’m re-posting the article with small changes.


The European Central Bank cut all rates and expanded its quantitative easing program. Amid growing concerns about economic growth and inflation, the 19-country eurozone’s central bank cut its rates to an all-time low. The refinancing rate, the rate of interest that banks must pay when they borrow funds from the ECB, was decreased by 5 basis points to zero percent. The marginal lending facility, the rate at which the central bank offers overnight credit to banks, was decreased by 5 basis points to 0.25 percent.

The deposit rate was cut further into negative territory. As expected by markets, the central bank cut its deposit rate by 10 basis points to negative 0.4 percent. The purpose of lower interest rates is to boost lending by encouraging banks to lend more to businesses and consumers, which in turn boosts spending and investment. In 2014, household consumption expenditure and investment accounted for 56.5 percent of GDP and 18 percent of GDP, respectively. QE was expanded from 20 billion euros to 80 billion euros ($89 billion) starting in April.

Under QE, the eurozone central bank pumps money into the region by buying assets, such as bonds, in the expectation that the proceeds will be invested in the European economy. In addition to bonds issued by financial institutions, QE will now include bonds issued by non-financial corporations.

“Rates will stay low, very low, for a long period of time, and well past the horizon of our purchases,” said Draghi, president of the central bank, referring to the QE. Its asset purchase program, or the QE, is expected to run until at least March 2017.

Policymakers have come under growing pressure to increase monetary stimulus after the eurozone slipped back into negative inflation in February.According to an early estimate by statistics office Eurostat, annual inflation dropped to negative 0.2 percent in February, down from 0.3 percent in January, the worst reading since February of last year.

That is far below the central bank’s inflation target of just under 2 percent. Draghi stated, “While very low or even negative inflation rates are unavoidable over the next few months, as a result of movements in oil prices, it is crucial to avoid second-round effects by securing the return of inflation to levels below, but close to, 2 percent without undue delay.”

Low energy prices were the main factor behind the drop in headline inflation. Energy prices fell 8 percent, down from a contraction 5.4 percent in January. Core inflation, which excludes food and energy, dropped 0.8 percent, down from 1 percent in January—the lowest since April of last year.

Lower core inflation reading suggests that the low energy prices are already feeding into the price of other goods and services, creating what Draghi called second-round effects that could lead to even lower inflation and eventually lead to deflation.

“Inflation rates are expected to remain at negative levels in the coming months and to pick up later in 2016,” said Draghi. The central bank lowered its inflation forecast for this year to 0.1 percent from the 1 percent previously predicted. In 2017, the inflation is forecasted to be at 1.3 percent. The previous forecast was for 1.6 percent.

Eurozone Inflation and Real GDP Source: Eurostat
Eurozone Inflation and Real GDP
Source: Eurostat

Reflecting weaker economic prospects around the globe and low energy prices, the growth outlook was also lowered.  Gross domestic product is projected to expand 1.4 percent this year, lower than a previous forecast of 1.7 percent.

In 2017, it is projected to expand 1.7 percent, lower than a previous forecast of 1.9 percent. Kenneth Tjonasam, a 27-year-old Baruch College senior majoring in finance, believes the central bank is running out of viable solutions.

He stated, “I believe the ECB moves are unprecedented. I’m starting to think they have run out of viable patient solutions to address the slow growth in aggregate demand.”

European markets soared and the euro weakened in a reaction to the rate cuts and expansion of QE, but they reversed when Draghi suggested no further rate cuts. “We don’t anticipate that it will be necessary to reduce rates further,” said Draghi. Then, European markets fell back and the euro soared.

EUR/USD Reaction to ECB
EUR/USD Reaction to ECB

In order to further ease private sector credit conditions, the central bank also decided to offer eurozone financial institutions ultra-cheap four-year loans. The central bank said the interest rate on the loans “can be as low as the rate on the deposit facility,” meaning the eurozone banks could get paid to take the loans.

The purpose is to boost lending to consumers and companies. There is no guarantee they will borrow the money

The European Central Bank will meet again on April 21. No further stimulus is expected at the moment.