Posts Tagged ‘Retirement Age’
I finally got my articles submitted to Business & Finance this afternoon, so that’s freed up some time to do a bit of blogging. I’ve come across a few interesting bits and pieces since my last update – some of which were so interesting that several newspapers and one national broadcaster felt compelled to run a story they picked up from my twitter feed with no hint of an acknowledgement! Still though, at least those of you who follow me both here and on twitter can say that you saw the story before anyone else in Ireland did.
In terms of the most interesting thing I came across this week, I noticed that the 49.99% stake in a Bulgarian bank that AIB paid €216m for in 2008 was sold for a mere €100k. The acquirer is the girlfriend of the Prime Minister of Bulgaria. Strangely enough several media outlets reported it within hours of my highlighting it on twitter, which I’m sure is just a remarkable coincidence.
Greece passing the confidence vote was no great surprise for me, given that politicians have no problem in voting to receive money in the short-term, regardless of what the longer-term consequences may be. It will be interesting to see how long the government survives for, given its slim majority, so don’t be surprised if we see another “Greek crisis” before the year end. And the consequences of this? Continued market turmoil as investors dump risk assets in the euro-area, and the single currency will continue to weaken (yesterday it reached a record low against the Swiss franc). One reader emailed to ask me why people are seeking safety in the Swiss franc over the euro. My response?
“Because Switzerland doesn’t come with Greece, Portugal and Ireland attached”
I’d read a detailed analysis in Bloomberg Markets magazine on this topic a few months ago, but this piece on how KFC and Pizza Hut have thrived in China is well worth a look.
The US Senate recently voted to end ethanol subsidies, which is a good start in addressing an immoral system that has served to raise the cost of basic foodstuffs for so many people. You may recall the food riots across the third world over the past 18 months as hungry people looked on in disbelief as the biofuels industry (and, let’s be fair, quantitative easing) helped push the price of agricultural commodities higher. As an illustration of the effect of this policy, Bloomberg reported that from September onwards more corn will be used to fuel cars in the US than feed animals. But don’t just take my word on it. France says we could be facing a “century of hunger”. While obviously the world will have to look at alternatives to fossil fuels, I think that measures to improve fuel efficiency and the phasing out of fuel subsidies in some parts of the world would have a more beneficial overall impact than by continuing to drive food prices higher to maintain unsustainable energy usage.
Tackling government waste is a priority across the developed world at this time. Every single line item has to be looked at to ensure that the axe falls on the things we can do without so that essential services can be maintained. I was less than pleased to see that the new government here has maintained the MerrionStreet “information portal”, despite the leader of the junior coalition party having dismissed it as a “propaganda site” while in opposition. Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time that Eamon Gilmore has flip-flopped, would it? Speaking of flip-flopping, if you read this Minister’s comments closely, you’ll see that he’s actually teeing up this policy for a U-turn before it is even implemented!
Am I wrong in thinking that the EU is preparing to bury some bad news? Of course, no sensible investor will take these latest stress tests seriously, given the way that the Irish banks who passed the last test all needed massive capital injections afterwards!
There has also been some intellectually dishonest (at best) debate around the retirement age doing the rounds. Ireland’s government has rightly – and sensibly – raised it to 68 which to me is just the start. I would be amazed if it is still at that level 20 years from now. Given the dramatic increase in life expectancy in recent decades – and advances in healthcare – coupled with our ageing population and the structural problem relating to the fact that successive governments have failed to provide adequately for State pensions the retirement age will continue to trend higher.
From an Irish corporate newsflow perspective, I attended the PetroNeft AGM earlier this week after it announced that it was revising down its production targets in the short term. For full disclosure, I am a shareholder in PetroNeft, and have looked on in horror at its recent share price performance. While management is upbeat about its longer-term prospects, I get the impression that the price will struggle in the near-term until it can meaningfully demonstrate that it can grow its output in Siberia. To me it’s a hold, but I wouldn’t be adding to my position here. Elsewhere, DCC made another acquisition, this time in the waste sector, which will add 2c to earnings in a full year, according to Goodbody’s David O’Brien, who is one of the sharpest young analysts in Dublin. DCC is a fantastic business, with a proven track record of strong cash generation and returns. It’s been an underperformer on the ISEQ in the year to date, which I find hard to understand given the defensive nature of the majority of its businesses. Turning to the banks, Bank of Ireland announced that most bondholders have opted for shares over cash in its latest capital raising exercise. This is not a surprise to me, as I noted before on twitter that they were heavily incentivised to take the equity option. However, the logical extension of this as I said yesterday (and as some brokers have highlighted in their morning notes today) is that there will be a big overhang on the Bank of Ireland share price for the next while. Yet another reason why I wouldn’t touch the equity here (As a disclaimer, I am a shareholder in BKIR, but I am so far under water on that position that it is purely being retained to serve as a useful tax loss in time).
Staying with Ireland, the latest quarterly national accounts were released yesterday. Some commentators hailed the positive GDP print, which to me only served to advertise their lack of understanding of the Irish economy. The GNP figure is far more relevant and this retreated by a staggering 4.3% qoq. Government plans to raise taxes on an economy that is in such a fragile state will only drive more people onto the dole queues.
And finally, this is a fantastic link – Sir John Templeton’s “best 16 rules of investing that you’ll ever read“.
A few things have caught my eye since my last blog post. Firstly, the Lex column in the weekend edition of the Financial Times had a good piece on Greece’s creditors, a theme that Bloomberg picked up on this morning. According to an analysis by BarCap, a mere 30 institutions hold two-thirds of Greek government debt. The main creditors are: Domestic €90bn, ECB €40bn, Other Central Banks €35bn and German & French banks €34bn. BarCap estimates that the recovery rate for Greek bonds will be 25-28% of nominal value, which is no great surprise given where Greek bonds are trading.
I’ve seen some recent debates about Argentina’s default, with several people giving the impression that we’ve nothing really to worry about should Ireland walk away from its debts. That’s not quite the case. On my recent travels in Argentina many of the people I met spoke of how their savings were mostly wiped out after the default happened. This Irish Times piece gives a good picture of the impact that this had. Staying on this theme, another thing I noticed when I was in Buenos Aires and Mendoza was that even modest homes were “fortified” (bars/shutters on all the windows etc.). I asked the locals why this was the case, and they explained that after seeing how their savings were mostly wiped out many people simply convert their wages from pesos into US$ and keep it in cash at home. Of course, the consequence of people not putting their money into the banks is that it is harder for firms to borrow which means less investment in the economy. So, alas, default is no panacea. As an aside, not all of the cash is kept in shoeboxes in peoples’ homes – when I was in Uruguay I noted that every second building seemed to be a bank, and this local press story explains how many Argentinians keep their savings in financial institutions located in their smaller neighbour, rather than invest in their own economy.
Elsewhere, the International Air Transport Association cut its 2011 global airline-industry profit forecast by 54% because of higher oil prices, political protests in the Middle East and North Africa, and Japan’s earthquake. No great surprise there I would have thought.
I was really surprised that the Slovenian electorate rejected plans to raise the minimum retirement age to 65 from the current levels of 58 for men and 57 for women. Considering that life expectancy in that country is now 79 (having increased 10.5 years since 1960), it is inevitable that the country will reach a stage where the demographics cannot sustain such a set-up. Better for countries to reform systems to take into account longer life expectancies now before the demographic time bomb detonates.