Friday 13 January 2012

S&P's Ratings: Good News, Bad News.

During the 19th century, people afflicted by tuberculosis/consumption were called "tísicos" in the Spanish-speaking world (tubercular, consumptive, in English).

Tísicos were easy to spot: pale complexion, weakness, thinness, fever, cough, mucus mixed with blood.

On Mediate Auscultation (1819).
Théobald Chartran. [1]
According to urban legend, shortly before dying (and most died of tuberculosis in those days) a person would regain some colour and other symptoms would briefly disappear, raising hopes that sufferers would recover.

This gave origin to an ironic expression: "alegría de tísico" (that is tubercular's/consumptive's joy/relief).

What Happened:

The BBC, two days ago:
"Spain and Italy's borrowing costs fell sharply in bond auctions on Thursday.
" 'It's a step in the right direction, but the bigger test will be the longer-dated auctions further down the road', said Nick Stamenkovic, bond strategist at RIA Capital Markets in Edinburgh". (See here)

Or The Sydney Morning Herald/Bloomberg News:
" 'For all the talk of debt downgrades, the truth is that bond auctions have shown that the most worrisome countries can access credit', said Francisco Salvador, a strategist at FGA/MG Valores in Madrid. 'This has comforted investors'." (See here)

The BBC last night (Australian time):
"France confirms loss of top AAA credit rating
"The move came after world stock markets fell on reports many Eurozone governments are being downgraded." (See here)

The Good News:

The immediate effects have been limited. Coming after Eurozone share markets had already fallen on anticipation of S&P's move (FTSE -0.46%, Dax -0.58%, Cac 40 -0.11%) it hasn't affected NYSE or Nasdaq much: Dow Jones -0.45%, Nasdaq -0.50%.

Bond yields haven't suffered much, either: "France's borrowing cost rose slightly, from 3.03% to 3.07%. Germany - considered the safest borrower in the Eurozone - saw its borrowing cost fall from 1.83% to 1.76%."

So, the good news is that this, by itself, is no reason to panic.

The Bad News:

The bad news is that Fitch and Moody's are yet to emit pronouncements.

As these events took place after our local stock exchange closed, in Australia we should wait for next week.

What Now?

From an Australian perspective and beyond next Monday, are there any guesses as to how this story might end?

If you have the stomach, time and inclination, here is a good guess: "S&P Takes Rating Actions on Euro Area Governments".

If you don't have the stomach, the time or the inclination to read a rather complex article, just let me give you this painting:

Misery (1886).
Cristóbal Rojas. [2]

18-01-2012. ABC:
"World Bank slashes growth forecasts
"The World Bank has cut its global economic growth forecasts, citing the eurozone's debt problems and weakening growth in emerging economies.
"The bank expects the global economy to expand 2.5 per cent in 2012 and 3.1 per cent in 2013, sharply lowering its June estimate of 3.6 per cent for both years."
I haven't read the report itself (it's over 180 pages long), but it allegedly mentions Australia only twice, and never in particularly terrible circumstances. (See here)

21-01-2012. ABS (19-01-2012):
"The ABS reported the number of people employed decreased by 29,300 to 11,421,300 in December. The decrease in employment was driven by a drop in part-time employment, down 53,700 people to 3,370,300, and was offset by an increase in full-time employment, up 24,500 people to 8,051,000.The decrease in seasonally adjusted part-time employment was driven by weaker than usual growth during the December period, which was particularly noticeable for women aged 15 to 24.
"The number of people unemployed decreased by 3,800 people to 629,900 in December, the ABS reported.
"The ABS monthly aggregate hours worked series showed an increase in December, up 5.6 million hours to 1,622.0 million hours.
"The ABS reported a decrease in the labour force participation rate of 0.3 percentage points in December to 65.2 per cent".
Upon hearing those news, Opposition leader Tony Abbott, commented:
"The Australian economy, for all its comparative strength, created no net new jobs in calendar 2011. This is a very disappointing result and it demonstrates how important it is that the Government urgently get debt and deficit under control". (Emphasis added. See here)
"Well, perhaps Mr. Abbott is alone in his belief on the virtues of expansionary fiscal contraction", I can almost hear readers (often more optimistic than yours truly) objecting.

Well, perhaps, but I would not hold my breath. Just eleven days ago the Employment minister and acting Treasurer, Bill Shorten (Labor, former trade unionist) commenting on the demands to increase the New Start Allowance (aka dole, currently $243 per week):

"Australia's social security system needs to provide a strong safety net for people who need financial assistance while also acting as an incentive for people to take up paid work" (...)
"Participation in the workforce is a priority the Gillard government is passionate about. Work is at the core of our beliefs.
"In the current economic climate, I believe we have got the balance about right. Particularly when delivering a surplus next year and continuing our strong economic management is an important part of this balance".
(Emphasis added. See here)
It's by no means certain how our fearless and enlightened leaders would respond to a new crisis.

If I were you, I'd start worrying about now. But, then again, I'm not you and you're not me.

Image Credits:
[1] On Mediate Auscultation. Théobald Chartran (1819). Wikipedia.
[2] Misery. Cristóbal Rojas (1886). Wikipedia.

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