There’s no denying China’s massive economic growth over the past decade, as the country recorded an average GDP of more than 10 percent per year. In only seven years, China’s economy doubled; in 13 years, it tripled.
With this incredible expansion, China began to import commodities at an incredible pace. In 2000, the country imported only 70 million tons of iron ore; today, it’s more than 10 times that amount, at 763 million tons. Copper imports increased dramatically too, growing from 1.6 million tons in 2000 to more than 4 million tons per year today, according to BCA Research data.
And when it comes to oil demand, 17 years ago, China was a net exporter. Today, it is the second-largest importer, transporting 5.4 million barrels of oil into the country every day.
That’s why it is widely accepted that the Asian giant spurred higher commodity prices in the past decade.
And if the country was the force behind the boom, then the assumption is that China’s lower, but still healthy growth will be a drag on commodity prices.
But recent research challenges this assumption.
According to BCA Research’s Chen Zhao, what is initially an “outrageous proposition” may not actually be. The analyst says the fact that China’s consumption of industrial commodities significantly increased at the same time prices rose may have only created “the impression that China was the main driving force behind the commodities boom. "
Consider that since the substantial growth early in the last decade, China has continued to import commodities at a remarkable pace. Since 2007, the Asian giant buys 2 times more iron ore, 1.5 times more copper and 6 times more coal from other countries.
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“The level of Chinese commodity imports obviously reflects the size of its economy,” says BCA. So even if the growth rate has slowed down, “the absolute level of Chinese commodity demand continues to set new records every year.”
Then what’s really driving commodity prices?
If you can’t entirely blame weak commodity prices on Chinese demand, what is the culprit? Take a look at the chart below. The red line plots the 10-year rolling correlation of annual returns on the Thomson Reuters/Jefferies CRB Commodity Index (CRB) with China’s real GDP growth. The correlation between these two numbers has stayed close to 0.4 since the late 1990s.
Now take a look at the blue line, which shows a negative correlation between the CRB and the trade-weighted U.S. Dollar. The correlation since 2010 has hovered around -0.8, implying that “the dollar has much more explanatory power,” says BCA.
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The data confirms BCA’s “long-term suspicion that the bull market in commodities last decade was mainly a reflection of a sustained fall in the U.S. dollar.”
This isn’t the only time we’ve experienced this phenomenon. In the 1990s, when the U.S. economy was booming and the dollar was strong, commodity prices were weak and oil prices fell to an all-time low of $10 per barrel.
Today, many emerging market economies that had no global footprint a few decades ago are now growing at a much faster pace than the developed countries. These emerging nations have young, growing populations who are moving to the cities, becoming wealthier, and consuming more goods and services.
However, like I shared last week, Credit Suisse is of the opinion that prices of commodities may no longer rise and fall together in unison, emphasizing that investors will need to focus on individual commodities depending on the supply and demand factors. This is why we advocate that investors hold a diversified basket of commodities actively managed by professionals who understand these specialized assets and the global trends affecting them.
- Major market indices finished mixed this week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.51 percent. The S&P 500 Stock Index moved higher by 0.71 percent, while the Nasdaq Composite lost 0.35 percent. The Russell 2000 small capitalization index rose 1.35 percent this week.
- The Hang Seng Composite appreciated 0.29 percent; Taiwan fell 1.93 percent while the KOSPI rose a modest 0.08 percent.
- The 10-year Treasury bond yield fell 10 basis points this week to 2.48 percent.
Domestic Equity Market
The S&P 500 posted a 0.71 percent gain this week and has now risen for four weeks in a row after a bout of weakness in May and June. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke appeared to soften his tone again this week, giving the market hope that the Fed’s quantitative easing (QE) program won’t be reduced in September, as many currently expect. Earnings season is in full swing and that was definitely a driver this week with several high profile technology names disappointing, which led the sector lower in an otherwise strong market.
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- The industrial sector was the best performer this week as transportation stocks performed well and the index heavyweight General Electric rose 4 percent on an earnings report that was well received.
- The energy sector was also a strong performer this week as WTI crude oil rose 2.29 percent to 108.38. Oil service giant Schlumberger was the best performer this week rising 7.68 percent with most of that coming on Friday as the company reported earnings that indicated strength in virtually all segments of the business.
- Johnson Controls was the best performer in the S&P 500 this week rising 10.95 percent after the company reported a 32 percent profit, on a stronger auto segment and expected improvement in Europe.
- Information technology was the worst performing sector this week on disappointing results from the index heavyweights. This included high profile earning misses by Microsoft, Intel and Google. Ebay also disappointed market expectations and was among the worst performers in the sector.
- Telecom services were also down for the week as Verizon was weak on lower profit margins.
- Microsoft was the worst performer in the S&P 500 for the week, falling 12.13 percent. The company reported disappointing earnings results on weak personal computer sales, and the company took a $900 write-down on Surface tablet inventory, highlighting the difficultly in transitioning away from PCs.
- The current macro environment remains positive as economic data remains robust enough to give investors confidence in an economic recovery, but not too strong as to force the Fed to change course in the near term.
- Money flows are likely to find their way into domestic U.S. equities and out of bonds and emerging markets, which should help the market find a floor.
- Earnings in the energy, financial and industrial areas have generally been well received over the past two weeks. Key names in those sectors reporting next week include, Halliburton, United Technologies and Boeing, to name a few.
- A market consolidation could continue in the near term, as macro concerns could dominate for the next couple of weeks while the market waits for earnings.
- Higher interest rates are a threat for the whole economy, the Fed must walk a fine line, and the likelihood for policy error is potentially large.
- Large technology companies have disappointed so far this earnings season and Apple is up to bat next week.
The Economy and Bond Market
The treasury market rallied again this week after Fed chairman Ben Bernanke appeared to back away from a predetermined path for QE tapering during a congressional testimony. On balance, recent economic data has not been very supportive of reducing monetary stimulus. The chart below is an excellent example; housing starts have declined significantly over the past few months as interest rates have risen sharply, apparently crimping demand in this critical area of the economy.
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- Fed chairman Ben Bernanke eased market fears somewhat this week, indicating that any policy change will be data dependent and not predetermined.
- The National Association of Homebuilders sentiment index rose to the highest level in more than seven years. This is in stark contrast to the housing starts data.
- Industrial production rose 0.3 percent in line with expectations, but showed strength in autos, which is another critical area of the economy.
- Housing starts fell again in June. This has been a serious area of support for the economy and one of the key differences between this year and recent years. This weakness is helping to solidify the idea that tapering may be postponed.
- Retail sales in June rose 0.4 percent, but that was well below expectations and feeds into the “economy is not strengthening” narrative.
- June’s consumer price index (CPI) rose by 0.5 percent, and on a year-over-year basis is up 1.8 percent. While it’s not at the level that would evoke a response from the Fed, we have seen some inflation pressures pick up.
- Despite recent commentary, the Fed continues to remain committed to an accommodative policy.
- Key global central bankers, such the European Central Bank (ECB), Bank of England and the Bank of Japan, are still in easing mode.
- The recent sell-off in bonds is likely an opportunity as higher yields will act as a brake on the economy and potentially become self-fulfilling, thus postponing Fed tapering.
- Inflation in some corners of the globe is getting the attention of policy makers and may be an early indicator for the rest of the world.
- Trade and/or currency “wars” cannot be ruled out which may cause unintended consequences and volatility in the financial markets.
- The recent bond market sell-off may be a “shot across the bow” as the markets reassess the changing macro dynamics.
For the week, spot gold closed at $1,296.00, up $10.30 per ounce, or 0.80 percent. Gold stocks, as measured by the NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index, rose 6.06 percent. The U.S. Trade-Weighted Dollar Index lost 0.49 percent for the week.
- Gold deliveries in Shanghai jumped as physical gold delivered in the first six months of this year approached the entire delivered in 2012, and was more than double China’s annual production. The Shanghai Gold Exchange supplied 1,098 metric tons in the six months through June, compared with 1,139 tons for the whole of last year, according to official data from the bourse. Total Chinese gold production for 2012 stood at 430 metric tons. Comparatively, total known ETF holdings of gold have decreased by approximately 500 tons year to date. In essence, during the first half of this year, Chinese buyers have taken delivery of the equivalent of all ETF holding redemptions, the Chinese full year domestic production, and then some more.
- Despite a recent wave of new restrictions by the Reserve Bank of India on gold loans, banks and other financial institutions have reported continued growth in the sector. In fact, Mineweb reports India's largest pure gold financing player Muthoot Finance has applied for a banking license. Muthoot Finance has nationwide reach, especially in the rural markets and has 74 years experience in gold financing. The move is appealing since villagers and investors in the rural areas tend to invest their savings in gold and with their savings invested in gold, most individuals prefer to take loans against gold. As a result, credit expansion in rural India will likely force more physical gold into the country and away from international circulation, thus diminishing the available marketable physical gold supply.
- B2Gold published very encouraging drilling results for 60 holes in the Wolfshag Zone, part of the 90 percent controlled Otjikoto project in Namibia. The results, which include numerous high grade intersections, support the idea of this deposit being part of a much larger open pit resource, and could offer a longer mine life. The drilling results highlighted intersections of 5 meters at 15 grams per ton and 13 meters at 7 grams per ton, significantly above the expected grades of the overall Otjikoto project (1.42 grams per ton).
- Mining executives appear to agree it is cheaper to buy gold production than to build it. However, mergers and acquisitions have declined considerably. KPMG reports mining deal flows in the first quarter of 2013 totaled $15 billion compared to $90 billion in the first quarter of last year. As billionaire resource investor Lukas Lundin describes it, the major gold producers tend to buy at the peak and sell at the bottom. Conversely, some mid-tier producers appear to be taking advantage of current depressed valuations. Alamos Gold recently acquired Esperanza Resources, which has 1.5 million gold ounces in Mexico. Agnico-Eagle Mines has spent $66 million on equity stakes in ATAC Resources, Sulliden Gold, Kootenay Silver and Probe Mines. Meanwhile Randgold Resources struck an earn-in agreement with privately-owned Taurus Gold. It appears those who buy into the current environment may emerge as the cycle's winners.
- Colossus Minerals provided an operation update stating the company is having dewatering issues and will require additional equipment which will push back the production schedule. The company also appeared to signal more funding may be required before it can enter production. New Gold Inc., despite having one of the lowest cost structures, had its analyst recommendations slashed from Buy to Hold as nearly 42 percent of the company’s net asset value estimate is tied to unpermitted development stage assets.
- A gold supply surplus could send prices plummeting, according to Natixis. The French bank believes the gold market will see a supply surplus unless there is a sustained fall in mined gold output, which in its opinion would require prices to fall as low as $800 per ounce. We disagree with Natixis’ observations on two reasons: Firstly, the demand for gold is clearly outpacing the global supply of the metal, as evident in the strengths cited above. Secondly, in one of many examples, El Dorado Gold announced this week a revised operating plan with reduced capital and exploration spending in its development assets in response to the recent decline in the gold price; the revised plan is based on a gold price of $1,250 per ounce for the foreseeable future.
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- According to Canaccord Genuity, sustained economic growth over the longer term may continue to require some form of quantitative easing. Citing a recent White House Office of Management study, over the course of the next decade approximately $6.6 trillion will be added to the federal debt. As evident in the chart above, the current level of U.S. dollar global liquidity already supports a best-fit gold price of $1,780 per ounce, well above the current spot price. It is worth noticing this best-fit price ignores the impact of likely additional easing and funding of the anticipated $6.6 trillion deficit. While there has been a recent divergence between the gold price and U.S. dollar global liquidity, the long-term trend highlights a greater potential for an increase in gold price versus a further decline.
- Billionaire resource investor Eric Sprott is of the opinion that Western central banks are running out of gold. With many major buyers of gold adding to their stocks, while supply is flat or even decreasing, the compounding of an already vast imbalance makes for an interesting case study. The conclusion reached by Sprott is that central banks have been selling their gold to non-Western central banks and private investors over the past decade, as they replaced their holdings of physical gold with claims on gold (paper gold). As proof of this, the German Bundesbank will need seven years to repatriate 300 tons out of the 6,200 tons of the New York Fed. Also, ABN Amro told its bullion customers that redemption of physical gold from their allocated accounts would now be impossible. Later, physical delivery times at the London Metals Exchange reached 100 days – unheard of. According to Sprott, as physical demand started to get tight , Western central banks engineered a method to increase available supply and decrease demand. As such, they flooded the COMEX (paper market), only to then free up physical gold.
- This week the Gold Forward rate (GOFO) has gone negative. This has occurred only four times in the last 14 years, and each time, it signaled a trough in the gold market. The Golden Truth blog provided a simple explanation of what a negative GOFO rate implies: A negative rate implies gold in hand today is worth more than U.S. dollars in hand. It means that someone with dollars needs the short-term use of gold and is willing to pay the owner of the gold interest plus use dollars for collateral. Hence, if they are willing to pay money to get their hands on gold, it means they are placing a higher value on gold than on dollars. What it really means is that the massive shortage of good to deliver 400 oz. bars in Europe, Asia and the Middle East is true.
- Scotiabank issued its second-quarter earnings preview this week. With the gold price having averaged $1,415 for the quarter, down 13 percent from last quarter, the bank expects revenue lines to be lower and believes there will be negative base metal pricing adjustments this quarter. Furthermore, cash margins are estimated to be 27 percent lower than the first quarter, while earnings per share are forecasted to be about 50 percent lower. Due to this margin compression earnings are expected to be lower both from last quarter and from the second quarter of last year. On the other hand, Scotia believes it is too early for companies to provide new Life of Mine plans, and resource updates when second-quarter financials are reported. Companies are more likely to perform this review at year end when they normally review the carrying values relating to mine assets, inventories, and goodwill.
- India’s Finance Minister has appealed to the people once again, to moderate their demand for gold. The government is insisting it will not rule on a complete ban of gold imports, as has been speculated in some circles. However, a new study has noted that the price of gold in India is expected to surge to again in the next few months, as demand increases due to the wedding season that starts in August. The seasonal pattern for gold demand is heavily weighted towards the second half of the year, with the Indian wedding season being one of the most significant demand drivers for global bullion prices.
- Fitch Ratings Ltd. is forecasting that increased royalty sales, forward sales and gold price hedging may occur for less well-capitalized companies, as plans to trim spending, sell mines, cut staff and reduce high-cost production prove insufficient to pare their market declines. The biggest threat, however, is being forced to hedge. Companies like Barrick Gold, who are reportedly approaching covenant breakpoints, and Anglogold Ashanti, who lost its investment credit rating this week, will likely be forced by creditors to hedge part of their books if they want to secure refinancing of their outstanding debt. In essence, hedging caps the potential upside increase in profitability resulting from unexpected increases in the price of gold, a very likely event in gold investors’ minds.
Energy and Natural Resources Market
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- WTI crude oil futures gained 2.3 percent and closed at a 16-month high price of $108.42 after weekly data showed that U.S. refineries used the most crude oil in almost eight years last week. This drained supplies for the third straight time, even as domestic production rose to the highest level since 1990 and imports increased. The recent surge in WTI futures has closed the discount spread to Brent futures, as the two trade at parity after having traded as wide as $25 per barrel in the fourth quarter of 2012.
- Amidst a sea of negative Chinese data and rhetoric, power consumption grew quicker in June. National Electricity Administration data showed it increased by 6 percent year-over-year, up from 5 percent in May, and from 4 percent in June 2012.
- Glencore Xstrata Plc said it will halt production of iron ore in Australia next month, citing deteriorating market conditions and ending a two-year experiment to gain a toehold in the sector.
- Crude-steel production in China fell to a four-month low in June after prices plunged, Bloomberg reports citing data from the National Bureau of Statistics. Steel output was 64.7 million metric tons last month, the lowest since February, according to the report. Production rose 4.6 percent in June from a year ago, the bureau said.
- Newcrest Mining may cut more staff at its Telfer mine after about 90 employees were dismissed this week amid a slump in gold prices. “Approximately 90 employees have been made redundant,” Jason Mills, a spokesman for the company said. “Some further workforce reductions may result over the next six months.” The company is continuing to review costs at all of its six operating mines in Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Ivory Coast, Mills said.
- Argentina will offer energy companies incentives if they invest $1 billion or more over a five-year period, as the country struggles to lift output and pare fuel imports a year after seizing a majority stake at YPF from Spain’s Repsol. Companies that meet the requirements will be able to sell 20 percent of production in international markets without paying export taxes, and will be able to keep export revenue from 20 percent of output outside of Argentina, according to a decree published in the government’s official gazette. They will also be able to sell oil and natural gas slated for export in the domestic market at international prices if the local supply is insufficient, the government said.
- Gold imports by India may rise to more than 900 tons compared to 860 tons last year, Marcus Grubb, MD of investment research at the World Gold Council, said in an interview. Sales surged in the second quarter after prices fell into a bear market in April. Grubb said that China imports are to top 1,000 tons in 2013 versus 817 tons in 2012, adding that the “Gold prices may be near the bottom.”
- Metals analysts at Macquarie highlighted that the nickel market has been in large surplus so far in 2013, and without significant production cuts, will remain in large surplus in 2014. In their view, the market is looking to China for further cuts in nickel pig iron production, but this is not enough to rebalance the market and cuts outside China may well be a catalyst for a short-covering rally.
- In a regular State Council meeting, Premier Li Keqiang stated that China’s economy was stable in the first half of the year, and that it can achieve major economic development goals this year, CCTV reported. One of three “Keqiang” indicators, power consumption, rose 5.1 percent in the January to June period versus a rise of 4.9 percent in the January to May period. Power generation rose 4.4 percent from January to June versus a rise of 4.1 percent from January to May. Similarly, China’s June foreign direct investment (FDI) rose 20.1 percent versus the 0.7 percent growth estimate.
- Alibaba Group announced that its earnings tripled to $669 million in the first quarter, indicating booming online internet businesses in China. In a separate report, Baidu is buying 91 Wireless, a mobile Internet App store, for $1.9 billion to have mobile game exposure.
- Macau’s gross gaming revenue grew 15.3 percent for the first half of 2013, better than most had expected. Improving infrastructures, connecting Macau with Hong Kong and mainland China, should bring in more visitors.
- China has announced that its solar power generation capacity will increase to 35 gigawatts by 2015, quadrupling from the current level. China also imposed a 57 percent preliminary tariff on imported polysilicon from the U.S. and Korea. Those policies favor local upstream polysilicon producers.
- Polish industrial output grew faster than expected in June, reinforcing the central bank’s case for cutting rates in recent months, while halting moves as the economy begins to recover. Industrial production rose 3 percent from a year earlier in June, after declining 1.8 percent the previous month, according the statistics office in Warsaw. The release exceeded the median estimate of a 1.5 percent increase noted in a Bloomberg survey. Similarly, output expanded 2.8 percent from May and gained 3.1 percent seasonally- adjusted from a year earlier, while inflation came in at a record low, increasing the central bank’s flexibility to manage the lending environment.
- Brazil’s inflation slowed more than analysts’ forecast in mid-July. Annual inflation slowed to 6.4 percent, going back into the central bank’s 2.5 to 6.5 percent target range, according to the National Statistics Agency. The news is welcoming for the Brazilian central bank that has embarked on the largest cycle of interest rate increases among the world’s major economies, in order to tame inflation that has remained above the 4.5 percent midpoint of the target since September 2010.
- China’s second quarter GDP growth was 7.5 percent, slowing from 7.7 percent for the prior quarter, though it does meet the market consensus. In the year to June, China’s fixed asset investment growth was 20.1 percent versus 20.4 percent in the year to May. The country’s value-added industrial growth was 8.9 percent in June versus 9.2 percent in May. The good news was in regard to retail sales, which were up 13.3 percent, above the market consensus of 12.9 percent. Additional good news from the second quarter data release was that gross floor area (GFA) new-starts rose 14.2 percent in June, expanding growth in the first half of 2013 to 3.8 percent.
- China’s rail freight volume fell 1.7 percent year-over-year in June; freight volume by road was flat. Airline’s Revenue Freight Tone Kilometers (RFTK) was up 0.7 percent, down from 4.6 percent in May. All numbers indicated weaker activities.
- Gold jewelry companies in China and Hong Kong are probed for price manipulation by China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). Recent profit alerts in Hong Kong have seen gold jewelry companies increase sales due to higher same-store sales growth, in spite of the sharp gold price correction.
- China State Administration of Taxation said that it will expand property tax to more cities.
- Singapore’s non-oil domestic exports fell 8.8 percent in June, while the consensus was looking at a contraction of 5.8 percent.
- The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of Thailand has cut its forecast for GDP growth this year to 4.2 percent from 5.1 percent, citing a slowdown in domestic demand and a delay in export recovery. This is a sharp cut and more than reverses the two previous upgrades to the growth forecast from 4.5 percent at the beginning of the year. In spite of the cut on the GDP growth forecast this year, MPC expects normal growth will be restored next year, supported by strong employment and income, a rise in investments from both the private and public sectors, and also from export recovery.
- Russia’s fixed capital investment unexpectedly fell the most since February 2010, adding to signs that the economy is failing to gain momentum. Investment dropped 3.7 percent in June from a year earlier, according to the Federal Statistics Service in Moscow. The median estimate, in a Bloomberg survey, was for a 0.5 percent increase. On the same note, unemployment rose to 5.4 percent from 5.2 percent in May. Russia’s economic growth is stumbling to the weakest pace since 2009 contraction, as the commodity weakness affects demand for Russian exports of oil, gas and metals.
- Peru’s GDP growth for the month of May slowed to 5 percent from 7.7 percent in April, the government’s statistics agency said. Last week the central bank held the key rate at 4.25 percent for the twenty-sixth month, citing close to potential growth and anchored inflation, yet it highlighted that reserve requirements could be loosened if needed to boost lending.
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- As shown in the graph above, the Philippines has benefited from increasing overseas workers remittances and growing business process outsourcing (BPO) revenue. The two sectors add more than 30 percent to the GDP and dramatically increase domestic consumption, which benefits real estate and retail businesses, and in the meantime, supports the Philippine peso. For the first five months of 2013, remittances from Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) have already increased 5.6 percent year-over-year, which was faster than the central bank’s forecast of 5 percent for the year. The Philippines’ government also promised to increase spending on infrastructure, looking to invest 3, 4.1, and 5 percent of GDP in the next three years from their current goal of 2.5 percent in 2013. The amount would more than double from this year’s target of 299.4 billion Philippine pesos to 834.5 billion by 2016. The market is not fully confident on this guarantee, since the government seems to promise more but do less.
- Hopes for liberalization of Mexico’s oil industry have once again been raised following President Enrique Pena Nieto's recent interview with the Financial Times. Presently, the Mexican nation acts as the sole owner of the country's hydrocarbons, and gives state-owned oil firm, Pemex, sole responsibility for the management of the entire energy sector. However, in the absence of foreign capital and expertise, Mexico’s crude oil production has fallen noticeably in recent years. The opening of deepwater exploration and production to private companies, as hinted at by the president, may be the catalyst to reserve this decline.
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- China eliminated the lower limit on lending rates offered by the nation’s financial institutions, as economic growth slows and the government seeks to liberate credit markets from government involvement. According to credit analysts, credit conditions have been very tight as of recently, and markets are unlikely to see an immediate drop in rates, but the lending costs will have more downward pressure when funding becomes abundant. The liberalization of the banking sector will also encourage private investments to pursue the banking business and increase competition, and therefore, improve money efficiency as China Premier Li Keqiang has intended.
- With the inflation expectation rising after the fuel price hike, along with stubborn current account deficit, the Indonesia rupiah might face further downward pressure. To make things worse, the sell-off due to the Federal Reserve tapering fears has caused foreign reserve to drop, which will further aggravate currency weakness. The currency effect will increase operating and capital expenses, and lower corporate profits due to rising bond yields and rising import expenses.
- The Hungarian government is proposing new legislation to retroactively rewrite foreign-currency loans, mainly to address the losses that borrowers incurred from exchange rate movements in foreign currency denominated mortgages. The government’s aim is to help Hungarian home buyers who borrowed mainly in Swiss francs to take advantage of lower interest rates, until a devaluation of the Hungarian forint currency sent repayments soaring. Hungarian banks, which are facing their third consecutive year of losses as a result of excessive bank taxes in a struggling economy, may be forced by the office of the Prime Minister to absorb the foreign exchange losses.
- Pablo Longueira, former Minister of Economy and the conservative coalition's candidate in the Chilean presidential campaign, has dropped out of the race because of health issues. The surprise resignation further weakens the chances for the governing conservatives to beat former president Michelle Bachelet of the Socialist Party in the November. Bachelet, who ended her presidency term in 2010, is campaigning on promises to increase taxes to address the nation’s vast income inequality.
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