Tags: eurozone | FTT | Napoleon | Italy

In Investing, Ask What Could You Lose, Not What Could You Win

Tuesday, 30 Apr 2013 12:29 PM

By Hans Parisis

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Let’s start with some good news.

On Monday, the U.S. Treasury communicated it expects to repay $35 billion in net marketable debt in the second quarter. The Treasury also said its borrowing estimate is now $138 billion lower than what it calculated in February. In case this comes through, this would be the first quarterly repayment since 2007.

Higher receipts, lower outlays and changes in cash balance assumptions permit the Treasury to expect the $35 billion repayment. Yes, things have to start somewhere with something; so, let’s hope this is a “real and sustainable” start.

Over the weekend, we learned how the International Banking Federation, which represents the international banking community including the American Bankers Association and the European Banking Federation expressed in a letter to Michael Noonan, president of the European Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) and finance minister of Ireland, its “strong opposition” to the European Commission’s proposed financial transaction tax (FTT) of 0.1 percent on all share and bond transactions and of 0.01 percent on all derivatives beginning January 2014.

Editor's Note: Professor Loses $1.5 Million in Market — But Bounces Back! (Here’s How)

For long-term and international investors, this is an important warning. There is the real possibility that market participants could choose not to use financial institutions or financial instruments that are subject to the coming EU FTT, which could easily result in unpleasant reductions in the profitability, size and strength of the financial institutions that are located within FTT jurisdictions.

All this strengthens my opinion that, at least for now, the European Union is certainly not the best place to invest. Keep in mind that U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew recently stated the United States remains opposed to this type of tax. It is also well-known that the United Kingdome only would support an FTT if it would be implemented “worldwide,” which is practically impossible under the actual circumstances.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t also mean that some of the EU countries, not all, would eventually retract from their intentions.

As a long-term investor, I don’t think it’s such a bad idea trying to avoid, as much as you can, doing transactions in any of the probable FTT jurisdictions.

Don’t worry, there are still a lot of non-FTT jurisdictions out there.

No, the United States is not included in that list of probable FTT jurisdictions. Only time will tell if the United States will keep its actual position on the FTT.

The unemployment rate in the euro area came in at a record 12.1 percent in March.

As expected, the highest unemployment rates were in Greece (27.2 percent), Spain (26.7 percent) and Portugal (17.5 percent) and the lowest were recorded in Austria (4.7 percent) and Germany (5.4 percent.)

The highest youth unemployment rate was recorded in Greece (59.1 percent), Spain (55.9 percent), Italy (38.4 percent) and Portugal (38.3 percent.)

Now that inflation in the Eurozone has come in much lower than expected, at 1.2 percent in April, which is well below the European Central Bank (ECB)'s target of close to 2 percent, it still remains to be seen if the ECB will consider the news on employment as being “bad” enough to lower its rates below the current 0.75 percent on Thursday, and by doing so, enter fully the quantitative easing world.

In this context it could become interesting to see what ECB Vice President Vitor Constancio really meant when he recently told the European Parliament: “We certainly still have some margin of maneuver to take decisions, and as [ECB] President [Mario] Draghi said in the latest press conference, we stand ready to act if economic conditions continue to provide ‘bad’ news, as has unfortunately been the case.”

Besides all that, markets seem to be overly optimistic and show full confidence in the newly installed government in Italy. I’m sorry, but I can’t share that unrealistic optimism and in my opinion the mother of Napoleon I, Letizia Bonaparte, nailed it perfectly when she commented on her son’s victories in the beginning of his rise to the top: “Pourvu que ça dure!” — translated to “Let’s hope it may last!”

Already, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who doesn’t hold a ministerial position in the new Italian government but remains highly influential in the center-right coalition, said Italy must renegotiate the deficit commitments it made under Prime Minister Mario Monti with the European Union. He wants what’s called the Imposta Municipale Unica (IMU) housing tax to be abolished and to reimburse Italians who already paid their share, which represents about 4 billion euros ($5.25 billion).

It will be interesting to see how Brussels, Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, etc. will react to that.

In my opinion, Berlusconi and his group are already preparing for the next elections. It could be that he gets his wish much earlier than most dare to expect, now that the newly elected Italian foreign minister commented Tuesday that the 2013 deficit commitment with the European Union cannot be renegotiated.

Editor's Note: Professor Loses $1.5 Million in Market — But Bounces Back! (Here’s How)

To me, it is already starting to look once again that we are in a new Italian episode of “Commedia dell'arte all'improvviso,” or “Comedy of the craft of improvisation.” Anyway, whatever comes out, it won’t be boring, that’s for sure.

If it will be helpful to the still ongoing eurozone debt crisis — yes, it’s not over yet — and the euro and the European Union as a whole, that’s another question.

Finally, my opinion about where the markets are headed could be encapsulated in what Napoleon’s mother said: “Pourvu que ça dure!”

No, my expectations for a market correction haven’t changed. About investing, I always first ask myself what I could lose and not what I could win, but, yes, that’s me and, as always, everybody has to decide for him/herself.

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