New musings, albeit on a broader macro front versus simply frontier, can be found at:
As always I can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org and/or email@example.com
random macro musings centered around the frontier
New musings, albeit on a broader macro front versus simply frontier, can be found at:
As always I can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org and/or email@example.com
Shedding over N4 trillion of toxic debt to the state-run AMCON starting in 2010 was the first step in a cycle for Nigerian banks which has now come full circle in that still subdued impairment charges have neatly correlated with rising ROEs and improved capital adequacy ratios (CAR)–now up sector-wide to over 17 percent from sub-10 percent levels two years ago–that reflect, in part, lower risk weighted assets–once a headwind but now collateral for high yield paper that[alongside sticky money market rates] pads net-interest margins as well as overall net interest income in the face of suddenly sluggish credit growth (a phenomenon the central bank (CBN) labeled this spring as “indicative of a disturbing trend of growth in lending to States and Local governments at the expense of the core private sector”, though as RenCap analysts point out roughly 80 percent of Nigeria’s private credit goes to sectors of the economy that account for ~23 percent of real GDP growth).
Banks’ role in developing the real economy (read providing credit) comes concurrent, however, with a continued drive to (arguably) over-provision, seen for example in Diamond Bank’s 1H12 results wherein provisioning rose 18.3 percent q/q against an annual impairment decline of roughly 10 percent–an example of the differences stemming from the newly adopted International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), which replaced Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and has had a direct impact on lowering the aforementioned impairments at certain banks while actually raising required provisions at others: analysts stated that First Bank , Zenith and UBA all saw impairment charges decline between 20-38%, for instance (in essence the method of provisioning is based upon an informed rather than prescribed rate assessment process). Yet to what extent banks build out and/or adopt the capacity to leverage the new standard standard and moreover apply it effectively to future asset buildout is just the sort of “sustainable change” alluded to by the CBN that will define and ultimately differentiate Nigerian banks once general impairment drivers disappear from earnings and funding profiles become more competitive. Moreover, some pundits also fret about how the IFRS mark-to-market ethos will impact various [hitherto opaque] credit portfolios, especially given how counter-party credit risk will imediately be passed onto balance sheets and require offsetting flexibility in reserving.
Alongside overall asset and non-interest income growth, Fitch wrote last fall that “cost management [can be] expected to take on increased focus” within the Nigerian banking sector; indeed, most explictly this sort of “efficiency” (often proxied by non-interest expenses as compared with revenue or in some cases total assets) may be magnified given the fine line between containing risk and capturing its returns inherent to a business model that post-Lehman and under Basel III looks to discourage rather than encourage it in the first place. Touting falling NPLs and higher capital levels as a sign of “strength” is thus somewhat misguided. A recent paper in fact (“Effect of Capital Adequacy on the Profitability of the Nigerian Banking Sector”) reiterates the “non-significance between CAR and selected bank profitability and performance metrics” while suggesting regulators focus rather on “intrinsic elements of bank operational activates” in terms of cultivating stability. For Nigeria’s banks, the work has just begun.
Following a four-month civil war and three missed coupon payments the Cote d’Ivoire ‘32 eurobond, which traded as low as 34 cents on the dollar last year but YTD remains, among hard currency sovereign debt, by far the best performing developing market credit, continues to look attractive given the recent IMF-World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) debt reduction scheme announcement of over $6bn (roughly one half of its present, public debt composition with the expectation that additional bilateral debt relief will be realized in coming years (though IMF forecasts still envision external debt as comprising around half of GDP through 2013, in spite of an expected 2x increase in gross investment which will help pad domestic output). That yields remain relatively sticky to SSA peers, however (the bond yielded ~8.5 percent last Friday), is a testament not just to the still undeclared arrears repayment schedule (and formal exit of default) but also lingering social tensions as well as uncertainty regarding structural, institutional reforms in crucial (read cocoa/coffee) economic sectors and persistent, budget straining energy expenditures (last year’s subsidy to the electricity sector for instance, which is financed with a portion of gas revenues, amounted to CFAF 104.5 billion compared to a target of CFAF 74.8 billion) which officials hope will be offset by newly passed and thus hitherto untested tax reforms (designed to expand the revenue collection base). To this last point, the Ouattara regime’s late-April foray into the regional debt market underscores that the need for external financing will be omnipresent, particularly with the trend of lower cocoa prices since March 2011 correlating neatly with the country’s newfound and expected current account deficit going forward which, per the balance of payments must be somehow financed. However, said financing is largely tied to both the supply and demand prospects for the crop, and as we’ve detailed in the past the long term supply issues are highly dependent on replacing an aging tree stock and [concurrently] vastly augmenting yields. Moreover even near-term supply concerns persist despite last season’s weather buffeted record surplus (evidenced by the market’s apparent backwardation), a signal for some at least that “reforms” may have been haphazardly rushed in part to appease Paris Club debtors at the expense of adequately addressing a host of concerns from domestic farmers.
Though providing a theoretical fillip to local assets, which most fund managers still deem undervalued across a host of metrics, a recent string of both fiscal and monetary accommodation in Vietnam may be indicative of a more fundamental and structural storm developing. As alluded to recently the number of non-performing loans (NPL) reported across Vietnamese banks still falls woefully short of more widely accepted, objective measures (another upwards revision this week by State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) central governor Nguyen Van Binh puts the number at around 6 percent of total loans), a fact not lost on officials so much as it remains an irritant and moreover a roadblock impeding the industry’s consolidation. The latest alarm bell comes not from Fitch (which earlier this year gave an NPL estimation of 13 percent) but from the Hanoi National University’s Vietnam Centre for Economics and Policy Research (VEPR), whose latest annual report will show that the entire banking sector’s bad debts amount to roughly 14 percent of total outstanding loans, “six-fold more than the central bank’s regulated 2.3 percent.”
To this end while much has been made historically in Vietnam about taming often rampant inflation, supporting the dong and moderating credit growth, the SBV now most fervently frets over a lack of lubrication in the system as deposit rate cuts (now 9 percent) so far have only padded net interest margins (rather than grow balance sheets) and GDP forecasts look ever-shaky. Though interbank lending rates hover at historical lows, loan extension remains muted such that the SBV’s supposed plan of replacing ‘bad’ money with ‘good’ looks premature at best and grossly naïve at worst; small banks cannot post adequate collateral in the eyes of their larger peers, according to some observers, while more draconian requirements keep SME borrowing costs sticky (around 18 percent) and the economy, by extension, stagnant (since M2 annual growth lags that of nominal GDP). Analysts with Hanoi-based HSC point to a defacto two-tiered banking system (state-owned commercial banks and larger private sector banks on one hand, whose NPL levels are considered worse, versus the rest) whose liquidity “resembles an African river in drought season with a couple of large stagnant pools surrounded by dry river beds.” The opaque nature of bad loans, how they’re provisioned for, and ultimately how many can be siphoned off to entities such as the Ministry of Finance’s Debts and Assets Trading Company (DATC) only hinders the process. “Forbearance with the current problems in the banking system will only lead to an accumulation of problems,” warns Sanjay Kalra, the International Monetary Fund’s country representative.
Finally, the desire to ease funding mechanisms contrasts with the natural maturation of the country’s credit cycle (deleveraging balance sheets is desirable to reverse the credit-money supply gap that has so far subsidized growth but also fueled inflation). Price-cooling measures introduced last year such as Resolution 11/NQ-CP hypothetically help accelerate this dynamic—Vietcombank Securities notes credit outpaced deposit growth by ~300bp/annum over the past decade—while tiered growth and rate caps, it is hoped, will strangle the sector’s more risk-loving players and encourage mergers. In practice, however, the whole system may be grinding to a halt, and an opaque accounting of bad loans isn’t exactly conducive to deal-making as many banks struggle with still inadequate capital adequacy ratios (CAR). This ratio computes capital over risk weighted assets and measures the financial strength of a bank to protect depositors. Deteriorating asset quality leads to higher impairment charge that erodes profit, reduces equity and by extension the financial strength. Vietnam banking industry income, noted one sector analyst, has been heavily depend[ant] on lending activities with the interest income/total income ratio of some banks reaching above 90 percent.” That crutch is now a liability.
An admittedly lofty price target for Tanzania Breweries comes in spite of a restrictive cost of capital estimated using a somewhat convoluted approach that borrows concepts from valuation wonk and professor Aswath Damodaran, professor Vivian Okere’s 2007 paper on WACC and frontier markets as well as more unsystematic, within firm or “project risk” mitigating factors derived from the Erb-Harvey-Viskanta Cost of Capital Model. As Okere notes, however, this “is not science”–a point reiterated by the relative illiquidity and concentration of frontier equity markets that makes gauging country risk premiums among other inputs so subjective. To this latter question a 2011 IESE market risk premium survey conducted via practitioners within 56 different countries added increased color, though the self-reinforcing nature of herds is of little comfort. In any event it’s best to err on the side of caution, we feel, given that an overly zealous WACC can at worst be thought of as an implicit margin of safety if nothing else and there are plenty of other avenues within the valuation model to express optimism.
While headline inflation in Tanzania fell to 19 percent y/y in March (from 19.4 in February) on moderating food (25.7 versus 26.7), housing (17.4 versus 19.5) and transport (9.7 versus 10.9) metrics, core measurements (8.8 up from 8.6) remain sticky, a phenomenon we’ve observed particularly among net importers. Interestingly in Tanzania’s case a deteriorating trend in the current account (-8.0, -13.7 and -12.5 percent of GDP respectively in 2010-2012f), however, has not seen a concurrent breakdown in import cover as gross reserves have actually remained fairly static over that period, rising at last count to $3.76 billion, or 4.1 months of cover, from $3.59 billion last June (3.6 months EOY11). This despite the shilling’s ubiquitous freefall since 2009 and all-time low of 1,850 against the dollar in late October which has since retraced back to its 17-week consolidation low of 1,570 as aggressive central bank (BOT) intervention sought to mop up liquidity via hiking the repurchase rate and minimum reserve levels while a directive halving the maximum net open position limit forced banks to jettison dollars (a strategy similar to neighboring Kenya’s, for instance). The 100-week support level of 1,550 appears likely should downside support break.
Given the reserves delta (i.e. rate of change) actually rose over the BOT’s intervention period, resiliency in terms of absolute levels of foreign reserves is likely a function of strong external financing of the balance of payments via FDI flows since existing regulations deny non-residents to ability to hold local currency assets, as well as diverse breadth and relative value of exports which tend to make Tanzania less exposed than peers to external trade shocks (evidenced by its relative Contagion score strength versus Kenya). Speaking to the former point, given continent wide dynamics the country’s steady FDI backing isn’t surprising: a 2011 Ernst & Young study, for instance, predicts investment projects in Africa will roughly double to US$150bn by 2015 based in part on their attractive hurdle rates.[i] To the latter issue while minerals (i.e. gold) made up approximately 40 percent of exported foreign trade flows, manufactured goods (~26 percent) rose over 90 percent y/y and account for an increasing portion of the export basket, though as a whole current account dynamics are still largely correlated with energy prices, gold prices and Chinese demand (~15 percent of exports), none of which are exactly strong tailwind catalysts at the moment.
We believe said correlations are likely to keep the shilling in a secular downtrend (and by extension keep monetary policy tight) given our opinion that its underlying drivers are more structural than cyclical (i.e. energy regulator EWURA’s recent 4.1 percent price hike should be offset by normalizing food price inflation following the drought), a function not only of wanting infrastructure (perennial power tariff hikes, reported and forecasted by stated-owned TANESCO, may be necessary for requisite foreign investment but they are the natural consequence of poor hydrology in catchment areas which negatively impact hydroelectric power generation[ii]) but also non-tariff trade barriers which the five-member East African Community (EAC) concluded in a 2009 study contributed to low regional trade flows despite member state commitment to abolish them.
[ii] Maposa, Vincent. The Tanzanian Electricity Industry. Frost & Sullivan. September 2011. Available at: http://www.frost.com/prod/servlet/market-insight-top.pag?Src=RSS&docid=241672142
While we were not necessarily surprised by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) decision last week to keep its policy rate unchanged at 18 percent given the current and forward looking dynamics (short-end yields have narrowed sharply since January) to both inflation (Headline CPI 15.6 percent y/y in March from a cyclical peak of 19.7 last November, with food inflation—36 percent of the total basket—down to 22.1 from 26.2 and transport inflation moderating from 28 to 15.9 over that same period) and exchange rate appreciation (KES/USD up ~29 percent since mid-October partially on the back of timeframe restrictive currency restrictions relating to currency borrowing by offshore banks as well as final round policy rate hikes) we still find the overall tight monetary policy current to be subtly shifting underneath the surface as officials seem to be just as, if not more concerned with export (i.e. manufacturing) competitiveness than with underlying price pressures and currency stability (factoring in a weaker than expected Q4 2011, we expect overall economic growth rate of roughly 4 percent in 2011 versus 5.6 in the previous year as net exports act as a drag on consumer driven output). That said while our target rate per a Taylor’s rule analysis indicates the CBK could reasonably slash some 400bp from its benchmark rate through 2012 in order to buoy growth, we acknowledge the MPC continues to see potential upside risks to inflation given a deteriorating current account deficit (~12 percent of GDP in 2011 versus 7.8 in 2010) as well as sticky core figures—11.2 percent y/y compared with the government’s short-term target of 9 percent, a testament to rising crude prices (~20 percent of the country’s imports) given food’s previously stated disinflation—as well as above-target credit extension that taken together keep its policy mindset circumspect, especially given lingering La Niña effects as well as unusual tropical cyclone activity in the Indian Ocean that will likely delay long rains, impacting electricity generation and agricultural production and further underpinning food and fuel prices.[i]
Additionally, on a technical front USD/KES rests gingerly atop its 200dma support line and appears to have made a sort of rounding bottom or saucer pattern typically indicative of a reversal in price behavior. The pair now trades again roughly in line with the reaction highs of February, a level which also served as support one year ago while preceding an ultimately rapid ascent to the 106 level. Simply put, therefore, the pair is at a critical zone of truth whereby a definitive break one way or the other would likely be more than transitory, a view corroborated by historical volatility (HV), i.e. the standard deviation of day-to-day log price changes expressed as an annualized percent. For example, we examined a 5-day moving average of the ratio between the pair’s short term and long term HV, looking for spots whereby the relationship dipped below and then traded above .5, implying reversion to the mean volatility (we cite Professor Turan G. Bali’s 2006 study in particular regarding the mean-reverting behavior of stochastic volatility)[ii] and an impending price break. Interestingly the recent potential bottom in USD/KES coincided with an approximate 6-week stretch of low (<.5) relative volatility, and given that the average has again receded we would suspect a similar, albeit more sustained breakout looms. While given its recent history of protracted consolidation periods (see 2008-2009 and 2010-2011) we target a near term run to 84 in the coming month.
Trade recommendation: While mindful of said currency dynamics rising real rates (i.e. policy rate less headline inflation), which have now shifted into positive territory, should offset technical movements enough such that the sharp decline in the short-end (-157bp in March from the previous auction) is likely to give way to a more tempered rate of decline such that in the near term we see enough near-term downside, rather than upside risk to inflation as well as an adequately supportive currency environment (assuming authorities maintain current restrictions) to continue to recommend un-hedged local bonds.
[i] Bali, Turan G. and Demirtas, Ozgur K. Testing Mean Reversion in Stock Market Volatility. September 2006. Available at: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=936647
Despite myriad reassuring market signals, namely improved dong sentiment (evidenced by the absence of premium on unofficial USD/VND and an expected continued surplus of over USD2bn in the country’s balance of payments despite a likely [petrol fueled] customs trade deficit widening given an improving structural flow [i.e. FDI/remittance] to leakage dynamic), declining 5yCDS premiums (~530bp in October 2011 to ~270 last month) and annualized inflation projections now well below August’s 23 percent peak and last year’s 18.6 percent average (triggering a reverse repo cut in March, followed by refinance and discount rate cuts this month), the central bank’s (SBV) monetary tightrope act remains treacherous given ongoing commercial bank consolidation and moderating credit extension (11 percent last year [versus a 22 percent government target] and average annual growth >35 percent from 2006-10) that comes against the backdrop of slowing growth. A mooted about plan to remove deposit rate ceilings by July, for instance, and thus adopt a more efficient market-oriented paradigm contrasts with the IMF’s opinion that lower deposit rates make it more difficult for weak lenders to attract funds (though in theory at least capped deposit rates may also pressure further dong depreciation) and is indicative of the slippery slope the SBV current navigates in trying to weed out weak lenders and bolster the dong’s credibility while concurrently lowering lending rates.
Yet while looser monetary policy feeds M2 growth (total money supply up ~1.06 percent in 1Q2012) and presumably fuels liquidity (local papers cited an unnamed SBV Deputy Governor in March, for instance, as saying that it was both “unfeasible and unnecessary to impose a cap on lending interest rates as [they] will automatically go down on surplus liquidity and easing inflation expectations”) interbank market health–which on its face appears healthier YTD–looks to also be correlated with the efficiency and speed of consolidation as falling rates, rather than a function of confidence, could be symptomatic of risk aversion as growing NPLs make stronger balance sheets within the sector less rather than more likely to lend to weaker ones. As has been pointed out the vast discrepancy between how loans are classified may be a roadblock to reform as it tends to vastly understate the country’s climbing (since 2006) non-performing loan (NPL) trend (2012 sector NPL forecasts from Fitch, for instance, are more than 2x those provided by the state) given differences in loan classification between two accounting systems.
At present, per the Vietnam Accounting Standard (VAS) banks classify amounts of NPLs that cannot be paid in lieu of the gross outstanding loan, while per the International Accounting Standard (IAS) method the entire loan amount is the basis (as an aside, a further reason underlying the country’s NPL gap may also relate to the inability of most Vietnamese banks to build out or adapt their internal risk management/credit rating strategies to the herein linked 2005 directive). Larger than acknowledged NPLs would theoretically magnify risk and also threaten to accelerate a negative feedback loop which I’d argue strikes at the foundation of the very sector consolidation efforts deemed so integral to the country’s macro stability in the first place. One proxy for this thesis, and the extent to which a liquidity crunch is already or may soon be underway is the velocity of interbank loans as bad debts and subsequent recollections between banks rise.
“Sell the news” could theoretically apply to the sudden rash of Saudi equity related articles of late highlighting bullish managers such as Mark Mobius and John Burbank (to that end we’ve been bulls for years; see archive) as well as the domestic Tadawal’s (TASI) underlying fundamentals including (i) a [forward] p/e of around 14.5 (all time historical highs are just over 15); (ii) a relative [dividend] yield versus local debt/peer payouts (i.e. ~0.6 percent on 1y government debt and a projected payout of 3 percent from the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, though admittedly myriad GCC countries sport a higher yield including Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain–all of which have lower premiums as well) and (iii) an impending invitation to foreign investors with an eye towards ultimately garnering MSCI ’emerging’ status.
That said even though the TASI looks to be stalling against 7800-8000 resistance after recently making 40-month highs, the long term retains its same promising premise–a fast growing (2.1 percent annual population growth versus the 1.2 percent global average) young and more economically/politically inclusive demographic underpinned by an oil and gas export-fueled investment boom that has spillover effects on other sectors (construction, building) and is itself a function of government spending, well capitalized banks (whose foreign liabilities have fallen in recent years against a large (15 percent) savings pool and moreover a generally non-interest bearing deposit base) with low exposure to European funding sources (and subsequent liquidity tightening) and an inherent competitive advantage particularly in the production of fertilizer, aluminum, steel and petroleum-based products. In a sense most if not all of these factors are intertwined and dependent upon one another, which is either comforting or not depending upon one’s perspective. Saudi PMI remains comfortably expansionary (~60) and in lockstep with aggregate demand/wage supportive fiscal spending (+ ~2.4 percent forecast in 2012 on top of a 23 percent increase in 2011), for instance, while credit volatility is also smoothed by the state via deposit growth. As I related to someone recently one cannot understate the role that public sector deposits in Saudi Arabia play in supporting liquidity. Over the past 5 years Saudi banks have exhibited loan to deposit ratios ~80 percent at extremely low volatility relative to GCC peers. However, even during cautionary periods for the sector (i.e. the latest European bank/funding crisis) wherein Saudi commercial banks have increased their central bank deposits, government deposits in the banking sector have risen in kind, smoothing an otherwise net contraction in credit growth (% change y/y government deposits with local banks have trended upwards since February 2010) as gross private sector credit continues to rise (to this end the latest consumer borrowing data sits at +21.8% y/y, a record high). The catalyst supporting the state driven dynamic is rising net foreign assets (NFAs) which in turn drives broad money growth (M3) and finally the money multiplier, meaning Saudi equities could theoretically still be ‘cheap’ for quite some time.
The IMF Executive Board’s lack of revelations in concluding its USD1.3bn Stand-By Agreement (SBA) this week with Angola (initiated in November 2009) was not surprising and moreover the expected final disbursement of 132.9 validates in our view the completion of a paradigm shift in terms of (i) macroeconomic stability and (ii) fiscal accountability (in this case another way of singling out the predictability of oil revenue transfers to the Treasury via [hitherto opaque] quasi-fiscal operations by Sonangol, the state oil-company-cum sovereign wealth vehicle). To the first point the National Bank of Angola’s (BNA) introduction of a benchmark interest rate last fall (in addition to an interbank (LUIBOR) rate, which in practice acts as a guide for monetary policy and as a reference rate for commercial bank lending rates) provided a key fillip to enhanced monetary credibility upon which much of extreme exchange rate volatility traditionally emanates. Indeed the BNA, which manages a floating exchange rate regime and utilizes an auction system as its primary tool for setting the exchange rate, saw inflation reach record lows in H2 2011 (from 15.3 percent at the end 2010 to within the 12 percent targeted band one year later) while its external position grew, allowing it to ease rates by 25bp in January while the 182-day T-bill rate, which began 2011 at 11.4 percent, fell to roughly 4 percent at the beginning of this year.
The disinflationary trend is an ideal backdrop for the newly effected energy sector FX regime requiring the financial intermediation of petroleum operations by banks domiciled in Angola[i], though the efficiency and ease of said defacto de-dollarization will hinge largely, the IMF notes, on the development of kwanza-denominated saving instruments. The implication on domestic bank revenues going forward, needless to say, is quite positive, though what effects increased onshore dollar liquidity will have on the kwanza as well as the monetary aggregate are less clear. To this end an IMF working paper on Angola from 2009 remains pertinent especially given how the country’s M2 and credit growth have rapidly surpassed nominal GDP growth since the global credit crisis:
“Excess liquidity, which is measured by positive deviations of M2 from its equilibrium level, adds to demand pressures, and contributes to inflation with a lag. This underlines the importance of closely monitoring the broad money growth as well as improving liquidity management. In this context, while greater sterilization efforts by the BNA are warranted to curb the rapid money growth, the analysis also suggests that fiscal policy has a role to play in sharing the burden of further disinflation by ensuring that public spending is in line with the existing macroeconomic and administrative capacity.”[ii]
This observation ties into the second point from above, namely the need for fiscal policy to scale up public investment as a prerequisite of sorts to economic diversification and inclusive growth as well as offsetting strong internal demand dynamics in the face of limited access to imported goods due to poor logistics (which underpins sticky core inflation).
Gross savings as a percentage of GDP, for instance, has actually fallen of late, diverging from the country’s growing current account surplus (itself a function of the country’s Cabinda Crude which ended February at an all-time high of 124USD/bl and accounts for ~96 percent of exports) which per the pair’s standing accounting relationship implies that investment has not only fallen in comparison with output but at a much faster rate (growth in surplus/output is 700bp more than the comparable nominal growth figure). The question remains how to manage fiscal accountability with the need to address inherent, “structural weakness” in the non-oil sector (see Mahvash Qureshi’s 2008 study “Competitiveness of Angola’s Non-oil Sector: Challenges and Prospects”) given the latter increasingly looks to act as a long-term monetary headwind given rising internal demand pressures while the former remains a short term exchange rate driver, a quintessential catch-22 for government officials.
[i] Van Welzen, Pieter: New foreign exchange regime for the Angolan oil and gas sector. Available at:
[ii] Klein, Nir and Kyei, Alexander. Understanding Inflation Inertia in Angola. May 2009. WP/09/98.