Wednesday, 18 February 2009

La Canción del Día: ''Menos Tu Vientre´´ (Miguel Hernández/Joan Manuel Serrat)

En medio de este día tan confuso, lleno de noticias sobre fraudes, pérdidas y ganancias, gobiernos autoritarios, despidos masivos ... pensé yo, de forma inocente y fugaz, en el taxi que me llevaba de vuelta a casa esta mañana, lo que sería estar en el vientre del ser amado. Como el buen amor es aquel que disipa misterios, que el mundo extraño no puede desafiar con propuestas de aventuras, pensé yo, en ese taxi, lo que sentiría perderse en el vientre de ese ser amado.

Y canté, de labios cerrados, una canción que
de niño aprendí al lado de papá. ''Menos Tu Vientre,´´ un poema del inmolado escritor español Miguel Hernández hecho canción por Joan Manuel Serrat en los lejanos 1970s. Los hombres hemos relacionado la poesía con la canción, como si fuera una herencia de nuestra condición de occidentales. Los griegos no concebían la poesía sin el acompañamiento de una lira. Los grandes poemas épicos de la Edad Media, o, ya en el Renacimiento, el Canzionere de Francesco Petrarca, eran originalmente cantados. Esa conexión poesía-canción la retomamos de vez en cuando, en momentos en que la vida nos coloca en un cuatro caminos.

De pronto, recordé que en mi iPod tenía la versión de Silvio Rodríguez de ''Menos Tu Vientre,´´ contenida en el álbum ''Cuba Le Canta a Serrat.´´ Suena la canción y aquella letra acompañada de la voz y guitarra de Silvio me hace olvidarme de la futilidad del mundo y de los números, del dolor de vivir, y revive en mí la sensación de protección que sentí alguna noche, en algún momento de la vida.

Menos tu vientre
todo es confuso.

Menos tu vientre
todo es futuro
fugaz, pasado,
baldío y turbio.

Menos tu vientre
todo es oculto,

Menos tu vientre
todo inseguro,
todo postrero,
polvo sin mundo.

Menos tu vientre
todo es oscuro,
menos tu vientre
claro y profundo.

No es mi objetivo hacer crítica literaria aquí. Pero, al cabo de escuchar la misma canción incesantemente a lo largo de la mañana, pude sentir que hay cosas tan simples en ella que la hacen una obra bella y sencilla. La melodía es sencilla, por que el poema es corto y etéreo; en su primera estrofa, el autor coloca dos frases formadas por dos palabras que denotan lo vacío que es el tiempo que transcurre lejos de la persona amada. ''Futuro fugaz / pasado baldío y turbio.´´ Esta combinación de palabras hechas frases inconexas nos regalan una sensación de que, fuera de ese espacio inexpugnable que aquel vientre se hace para el mundo exterior, todo es turbio, baldío, fugaz.

Clique aquí para oír la versión de Silvio Rodríguez de ''Menos Tu Vientre´´ en YouTube.

One More About Venezuela. Our Call Was Wrong. But We Insist on our Three-Year Outlook Forecasts

He won. We said his victory was the victory of evil love. Evil love? That doesn't probably exists elsewhere, it does only in Venezuela: we love you to intimidate your countryman, we love you to embark the homeland in a project that is clearly aggressive and confrontational, we love you to kick out those who don't like us. Bad, selfish love. Anyways, we will talk about good love in another opportunity.

MM expected a small victory of the NO in the referendum. Our call was wrong. Instead, Chávez's YES won by an ample margin of 10 percentage points. His was a solid victory, obtained with persistence and intelligence. The opposition failed to promote its own cause. And students movements were probably dealt a big defeat, because they had seen so far by the Venezuelan voter as the only independent source of intelligent opposition to the government of the Lt. Colonel. Well, time will tell us better what happened that day.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economist Alberto Ramos, one of the most knowledgeable, responsible and sharp economists covering this troubled region, wrote a few lines about the result of the referendum in a report to clients this morning. One good soul, a soul full of love, forwarded his comments to MM. To that good soul, thanks. Says Ramos: ''In the campaign for the referendum the government mobilized the full force of its logistics and resources to push forward the constitutional change proposal, while the opposition was slow to mobilize against the government proposal.´´ We agree 100 percent with his assessment. ''Furthermore, this election also exposed the shortcomings of the opposition: a fractured field struggling to build a cohesive identity at the national level.´´ True, nothing but the truth. ''This victory solidifies President Chávez’s already-firm grip on power and all the key institutions in the country. It could also embolden the regime to deepen the distinctly interventionist and state-centric economic and political model.´´ Yes, right! Therefore, Goldman Sachs is giving us another, unfortunate though, gloomy view about the future of Venezuelan politics and economics: for them, and for us at MM, the most likely scenario is for the Chávez administration to keep gradually encroaching on private sector participation via further nationalisations and through the tightening of regulation, including price, exchange rate and tax controls.

Ramos adds: ''Finally, because the victory extends the political horizon of the regime beyond 2012 the government could feel more inclined to embrace needed but unpopular measures to deal with growing macro imbalances, and a slowing economy driven by lower oil prices and the weight of inefficient public policies.´´ This is important, given the fact that there is no consensus among analyst over the path that the Bitter Chocolate Bolivarian Revolution will follow. A devaluation has its side-effects on inflation but it would mainly do it for the regime by boosting fiscal revenues at a time of declining oil incomes. The economist continues his assessment: ''Sunday’s referendum results will not be a catalyst for fundamental economic, financial, and political change in the short-term and as such should not change the nature and inherent risk of the credit in the near and medium term.´´

We would like again to go beyond his conclusion and say that the victory paved the way for the Revolution to continue restrictions on the way business can operate, economic relations are conceived and especially, will deepen the regime's practice of favouring crones with subsidised dollars and easy access to credit at the expense of businesses seen as foes to the government. For the next three years, more political polarisation should be expected. And we insist -- in the event of further nationalisations, the government may be prone to reconsider payments for those actions.

Colombian Bond Sales Thrive. Leasing de Occidente Places 400 Billion Pesos in Various Tenors, Including Five-Year+ Debt

Oh Gloria inmarcesible, oh júbilo inmortal ...
Que nos dure la dicha en el mercado
de capitales por un tiempito más largo ...

Yesterday, Leasing de Occidente, a leasing arm of local financial giant Grupo Aval, announced the sale of 400 billion pesos ($160 million) of domestic senior notes. The company told the securities regulatory agency, Superfinanciera, that about 47 percent of the total issuance was placed for five years and more. Details on the yield and the tranches were not unveiled (this is data that the regulator should require companies to disclose. You can't really gauge corporate risk unless information on borrowing costs paid, conditions and terms for transactions like this is made public.) Colombia is bucking a regional trend of declines in sales of corporate debt. Included Leasing's transaction, six debt placements worth a total 2 trillion pesos have taken place this year. Most notes are paying floating rates linked to the benchmark DTF interbank rate and the inflation index IPC. One thing that is key to highlight is the fact that privately-owned companies (those that have no equity listed or trading in the local stock exchange) are making their debut sales in the local capital markets -- a positive news for arrangers, the borrowers and investors in general: Alpina, the traditional dairy producer and food processor, sold last week 264 billion pesos in 10-, 12- and 15-year debt. In Brazil, only two borrowers, holding company Bradespar and telecom giant Vivo Participações, have been able to issue debt -- at rates way higher than those practiced a year or less ago. Mexico is also seeing a revival in debt sales, but only for commercial paper (debt with maturities of less than 12 months.) We wrote extensively about this in a couple of postings last week. The prospects for more placements look promising: declining interest rates may force investors at some point to look for investment alternatives other than zero- or fixed-coupon government bonds. One trader recently told me that the appetite for highly-rated corporate debt is growing, helped also by the outlook for inflation (as the country moves into recession, probably, price increased should ease towards levels within the central bank's target of 5 or so percent.) Duff and Phelps, a local ratings company, said in a report yesterday that Colombina, a candy and snacks maker, may be considering the sale of 150 billion pesos of notes to refinance existing obligations. One interesting aspect of this wave of new issues is the fact that investors are ready to lend to companies seeking to replace old debt for new debt, but not for new investment projects. One week ago, a top executive in the construction industry said accessing the market for new expansion plans will be tough.

Ecopetrol Posts Biggest-Ever Annual Profit for a Colombian Company. What is Behind The Story of Record Net Income, High Prices and Small Reserves?

Ecopetrol SA, the Colombian state-controlled oil company, posted record profits last year: 11.6 trillion pesos ($4.6 billion), the best annual financial result posted by any Colombian company in the modern era. Remarkable. But, is it all gold that's shinning?

Well, what are the reasons behind this amazing result?
the high oil and fuel prices we endured last year, the high domestic fuel prices policy that is surely hurting the pockets of millions of Colombians, and a very modest investment plan that is taking more time than expected to deliver. Digging further into the release, non-operational net income rose 430 percent, because of the decline of the Colombian peso against the dollar, as well as the gains reported in the company's investment portfolio. It wasn't all gold what shone last year. Production rose 12 percent last year -- too little for a company that raised more than $5 billion from investors last year and enjoyed the best scenario for the industry since the oil crisis of the 1970s. Ecopetrol has now the task of ramping up investment and discoveries this year in order to boost output to at least 500,000 barrels/day this year, from 447,000 barrels/day in 2008. The company will have to invest more than 12 billion pesos (the equivalent of last year's profits) this year as part of the Uribe administration's 2009 Investment Plan.

Click here for the link to the company's report (in Spanish.)

We believe that the dividend policy will be less aggressive in 2009 and that the company will try to maximise its downstream activities, in order to boost Colombia's refining capacity. Both things are positive, especially at a time where funding is scarce and good projects require deploying large pools of capital. In the light of stable domestic fuel prices, declining global and local demand for oil and fuels and low international oil prices, results shouldn't be that spectacular in 2009. The company, which is trying to replicate the model of Petrobras in Brazil, needs to focus this year on finding new reserves, starting the upgrading works for the Cartagena refinery and step up exports of natural gas to Venezuela.

Stanford Agrees to Delist from Colombian Stock Exchange. 'Strict Monitoring´ of Acitivities Seek to Reinstill Investor Confidence

Allen Stanford used to fly his Washington contacts to the Caribbean,
pay for their expenses, while lying to his own bank's customers about
the destination of their money and investment returns.
The problem here is more unwanted government-imposed regulation
will come after this. Self-regulatory efforts would do more
than government meddling on private businesses.

The Colombian unit of Stanford International Bank Ltd., comprised of a brokerage and a representation office for private-banking and asset management, agreed to de-list from the local stock exchange, meaning its activities will be restricted to complete pending market transactions and meet client redemptions. The decision is clearly aimed at averting intervention by financial authorities.The Financial Regulatory Agency, known as Superfinanciera, is ''strictly monitoring´´ Stanford Colombia's activities to protect deposits and instill confidence in the system, according to a note posted today on its Web site (click here for the link to the note.) The unit was forced to increase its capital by $3 million, -- I use the word ''forced´´ because these capitalisations aren't necessarily voluntary. I guess the Colombians freaked out when they realised that Stanford's brokerage was the fourth-largest player in the Bolsa de Valores de Colombia by traded volume last year. They wanted to act pre-emptively, something they failed to do in the pyramids scandal.

The company, called
Stanford Bolsa y Banca SA, also issued a statement on its Web site (click here for the link.) A U.S. official was named to help Colombian private banking clients recover their money, according to the note.

It is not the style of this blog to demonise a company that is under investigation for any alleged wrongdoing. In my 10-year career covering politics, markets and the economy, I saw many times how the media has the power to destroy an institution or the reputation of a person. Brazil is a good example of the reputation risk that investors face when the media attacks. Besides that,
this would be the very moment to kick off a witch-hunting of financial institutions -- the tracking record of regulatory oversight in the U.S. is on the bin. The authorities are on the search for scapegoats. You have to give the accused the benefit of the doubt ... always, it is a responsible policy as a journalist. Yet, the evidence against Standford's business model found is conclusive -- despite being it evidence recollected by the same regulators who failed to foresee the sub-prime mess and prevent it from becoming what it finally became. Stanford seems to be another example of the excess greed that governed our markets for the past six years. Hopefully, for the good of the markets, more scandals will be unveiled, more bankers will go to jail, and more greedy investors who don't do their investing homework properly will keep losing money.

It will take a little of your time, dear reader (don't laugh at me, Toby Muse) to understand the nitty gritty of this mess.
The Stanford Group, owned by a Texas financier called Allen Stanford, were sued by the SEC over the sale of $8 billion of bank certificates, on suspicions the securities were used by bank management to run a massive fraud that included making false statements about returns. My understanding of the situation is that Stanford Group would offer across Latin America those certificates through its network of banks in the Caribbean, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela and some other nation (all these nations have weak regulatory surveillance -- don't forget the Colombian pyramids scheme, of which its growth and posterior demise the Uribe administration is fully responsible.) The bank issued false statements to customers, the SEC alleges, by saying their money would only be placed in liquid financial instruments.The SEC said the portfolio was instead managed directly by the firm's owner, Allen S., and the destination of the money was ... uff ... real estate investment trusts (REITs), private equity ventures and other illiquid investments.

The decision by the Colombians, which follows yesterday's accusation of fraud against Stanford by the U.S. 's SEC, follows a similar one from Panamanian regulators, who seized the bank's operations in the Central American nation. Colombia laws oblige transnational banks to have their own pool of capital set aside for the local operations, making it independent from their parent companies to avert bankruptcies triggered by global market swings or scandals elsewhere. Click here to go to
IncaKolaNews, the blog of my dear friend Otto Rock, who has been scouring for new data and information on this case.