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A new survey of executives by the Economist Intelligence Unit adds another perspective to the all-but-inevitable event roiling financial markets: a Greek default. Nearly three-quarters of more than 300 executives polled by the EIU over the past week believe that Greece will eventually default on its debt. (For the full survey results, visit the EIU’s Business Research site.)

On Monday, euro area finance ministers released a statement calling for a “broader and more forward-looking policy response” to Greece’s ongoing struggles with its crushing debt burden. On the same day, Greek prime minister George Papandreou added his thoughts on the matter, warning that “if Europe does not make the right, collective, forceful decisions now, we risk new, and possibly global, market calamities due to a contagion of doubt that will engulf our common union.”

In the EIU’s survey, a small but noteworthy minority of respondents, 12%, think that the impact of a Greek default will be of a similar scale and magnitude of the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. A larger share of executives, 47%, predict a significant, long-lasting impact, but with the pain largely confined to the euro area. The remaining respondents either expect little impact or weren’t willing to hazard a guess.

With Greece’s benchmark bonds trading at half of face value, and spreads for Spain and Italy recently touching euro-era highs, officials are scrambling to stem the contagion from the monetary union’s troubled periphery. There is talk of an emergency euro summit on Friday, when release of the EU’s bank stress tests could destabilise markets further. But true to form, euro area officials are finding it difficult to come to an agreement on whether to meet or not.  

In most large countries, loan growth of 17% would represent a breakneck pace. In China, such growth is perceived as sign of a slowdown.

In May, the value of China’s outstanding bank loans rose by 17% from the year before, the slowest pace since late 2008. A series of interest rate increases and, more importantly, hikes to banks’ reserve requirements appear to be cooling the stimulus-fuelled surge in lending recorded in the months after the global financial crisis. The latest boost to reserve requirements, announced today, is the sixth hike so far this year. More increases are likely in the coming months, as worries persist over rising consumer inflation—5.5% in May—and a frothy property market. Still, the Economist Intelligence Unit expects China’s GDP to grow by 9% this year, only a modest slowdown from the 10.3% growth recorded in 2010. Despite the central bank’s tightening measures, credit conditions will remain relatively loose.

(Note: Some data in this post, and the accompanying chart, have been updated to reflect revised historical data.)

After reaching a (nominal) record price early this month, gold is back in the news, with prices resuming their climb after a mid-month stumble. Risk aversion tied to renewed fears over the euro area is generally cited for the recent spurt.

Taking a longer view, the Economist Intelligence Unit believes that the gold price is now at or near its peak (details can be found at our Global Forecasting Service site: free registration required). The average price is expected to peak this quarter, with an 8% slide forecast for the second half of the year. Monetary tightening and a stronger dollar should push the gold price down further in 2012—in terms of the average annual price, we expect a decline of 12% next year.

The majority of data and analysis at Financial Services Briefing is available only to subscribers. Each week, a small share of content from the service is made available to non-subscribers.

A series of tough measures, accompanied by equally tough talk, have made it clear that Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer is determined to prevent a crisis in Israel’s property market.

Israel’s latest directive imposing restrictions on the mortgage market was issued by its newly-appointed banking sector regulator, David Zaken, on April 28th and took effect on May 5th. It restricts the share of mortgages with adjustable rates that change at least once every five years to one-third of total lending. This restriction applies to all forms of financing in use in Israel, namely shekel floating-rate mortgages, loans linked to the consumer price index and loans linked to exchange rates (generally the shekel versus the dollar). According to the latest central bank data, these three channels comprise 48%, 32% and 6%, respectively, of total mortgage borrowing.

Read more at Financial Services Briefing: “Pre-emptive strike” (May 6th)

Today, Standard & Poor’s announced a new equity index based on the CIVETS countries. The moniker, coined by the Economist Intelligence Unit a few years ago, describes a group of sizeable emerging markets—Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa—with appealing conditions for sustained high growth. Although not yet part of common parlance like the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China), the CIVETS are generally the most-discussed markets in the next tier of emerging economies.

For its part, S&P describes the group as characterised by “dynamic, rapidly changing economies and young, growing populations.” Back-testing its new index, the CIVETS-based construction has recently outperformed indexes based on the BRICs as well as emerging markets in general. But this is not to say that shares in the CIVETS countries are uniformly buoyant: since the start of 2008, Colombian large caps have risen by more than 60% while large Egyptian stocks have shed more than 50% of their value. The group is an eclectic mix of political and economic systems, with financial markets of widely varying maturities. Thus, an index built from the CIVETS offers exposure to a targeted yet diversified basket of important emerging economies.

The recent performance of CIVETS shares will attract adventurous investors seeking outsized returns, much like intrepid coffee lovers who covet a rare, expensive type of bean harvested with the help of the civet, a cat-like mammal. In a less auspicious omen, civets were also linked to the spread of the deadly SARS virus.

The majority of data and analysis at Financial Services Briefing is available only to subscribers. Each week, a small share of content from the service is made available to non-subscribers.

“Straightforward to characterise, but difficult to quantify”. The Independent Commission on Banking (ICB), a group assembled by the British government to make recommendations on regulatory reforms, delivered its interim report on April 11th. “Everyone agrees that we need a much more robust banking system than that of the past decade”, said Sir John Vickers, the ICB’s chairman.

A week after the report’s publication, markets continue to mull the implications of the report, as well as the prospects for British banking in general. Tellingly, the initial rally in many banks’ shares immediately following the release of the report quickly fizzled, with all of the major banks now trading below the levels seen on the eve of the report’s publication

It appears that the UK’s approach to restructuring its banking system will rely on higher capital requirements for retail units and an attempt to engineer a viable “challenger” to the biggest banks from the portfolio of Lloyds Banking Group. Other countries with significant financial centres, like Switzerland, have already gone further on capital requirements while others, like the US, have been stricter on limiting the market share of major players.

It may take years to judge whether regulators can promote a more stable and competitive banking market in the UK. In the meantime, markets have shorter-term concerns.

Read more at Financial Services Briefing: “For better or worse” (April 20th)

The majority of data and analysis at Financial Services Briefing is available only to subscribers. Each week, a small share of content from the service is made available to non-subscribers.

These are tense times for Turkish bankers. The five-year term of Durmus Yilmaz, the country’s central bank governor, ends on April 18th. His successor, announced on April 14th, is Erdem Basci, a long-standing deputy governor. The change at the top comes as the risks to Turkey’s economic and financial stability are rising, not least due to a ballooning current account deficit fuelled by a credit-driven surge in domestic demand.

The appointment of Mr Basci ensures continuity at the central bank, but since he is seen as close to deputy prime minister Ali Babacan worries are surfacing about the extent of the central bank’s independence from the government. The unorthodox two-pillar approach adopted by Turkey’s central bank since December has combined steady increases in banks’ reserve requirements at the same time as reductions in short-term interest rates. Although government ministers have commended these policies, Turkey’s bankers complain that recent measures unduly punish the industry.

Read more at Financial Services Briefing: “Changing of the guard” (April 14th)

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest world economic outlook (free registration required) is largely unchanged from last month, with global GDP growth (at PPP) forecast to reach 4.3% this year.

The biggest change to our forecast, unsurprisingly, is to the forecast for disaster-ravaged Japan. We now expect Japan to grow by 1% this year, down from 1.6% before the earthquake and tsunami that struck the country on March 11th. There will be a large contraction in the second quarter of this year, although growth will bounce back in subsequent quarters as rebuilding begins. In fact, we expect growth of 1.8% in 2012, up from an expectation of 1.4% before the disaster. This will do little, however, to boost Japan’s dire public finances, with the country’s budget deficit expected to reach 7.9% of GDP this year.

The perilous fiscal state of some euro area member states has been a long-running saga. It will continue to run, despite assurances from the currency union’s leaders—in reality, “something between a fudge and a failure”—following a high-profile summit last week.

To coincide with the summit, the EIU published a report on the euro area (free registration required), featuring a set of forecast scenarios and a custom-built “Debt Crisis Monitor”. The monitor measures the vulnerability of euro area countries to a debt restructuring, with a headline index comprised of three sub-indices for sovereign solvency, sovereign liquidity and the banking sector.

On the banks, Ireland unsurprisingly ranks top—by some distance—as far as riskiness is concerned. Some of the other results are more noteworthy: Cyprus has the second-riskiest banking sector in the euro area; lenders in the Netherlands are the least healthy in the “core” euro area; and banks in Germany and Italy are seen as equally risky despite the countries’ diverging fiscal fortunes.

The majority of data and analysis at Financial Services Briefing is available only to subscribers. Each week, a small share of content from the service is made available to non-subscribers.

Although a reckoning was overdue, the suddenness of South Korea’s suspension of eight savings banks was surprising. Signs of strain at the small, community-based lenders were long apparent; heavy exposure to the property industry put loan portfolios at risk as construction activity cooled and housing prices stagnated. Nevertheless, the suspensions of one bank last month and seven so far this month has generated drama, and some fear, in the country.

The recent suspensions were the first such actions taken against savings banks by the Financial Services Commission (FSC), South Korea’s financial industry watchdog, since October 2000, when 17 savings banks were forcibly shut down. The FSC issued “corrective” orders to wayward savings banks in the intervening years, but the severity of shortcomings at some lenders required more drastic measures. The suspension of Samwha Mutual Savings Bank last month spooked savers, who hastily withdrew billions of won from other savings banks, leading to a further seven suspensions (including Busan Savings Bank, the country’s largest savings bank).

Read more at Financial Services Briefing: “Big trouble at little lenders” (February 24th)

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