domingo, 28 de fevereiro de 2010

O fim do regime?

Os regimes começam a cair pelos seus partidos. Portugal é um exemplo claro. Quando os partidos tradicionais da monarquia constitucional, o Partido Regenerador e o Partido Progressista, perderam qualquer espécie de identidade ideológica e programática, falharam sucessivamente no governo e se desintegraram em facções sem significado e sem destino, a República chegou. E, na República, quando o Partido Democrático de Afonso Costa, depois de 1918, deixou o seu jacobinismo original e passou a ser um conjunto de pequenos ranchos que se guerreavam, nada podia já impedir o 28 de Maio e a Ditadura. Mesmo a Ditadura se desfez, quando Salazar morreu, em bandos de "notáveis" que se detestavam e que pouco a pouco conseguiram paralisar Caetano.

A agonia desta II República, sob que vivemos, também está hoje à vista no calamitoso estado dos partidos parlamentares. O PC há 20 anos que não acredita na revolução e só quer impedir o governo de governar - seja ele qual for: da direita, do centro ou do PS. É um apêndice maligno, que dura contra todo o senso e toda a lógica. O Bloco, que não passa do PC da nova classe média, não serve para nada. Acabou por se tornar num grupo de protesto vociferante e vão, incompreensivelmente instalado em São Bento. E o PS, que Sócrates transformou numa tropa calada e reverente, vai desaparecendo agora, afundado (com razão ou sem ela, não importa) em escândalos de vária ordem e gravidade, e numa crise que não previu e não soube tratar. Como pode ele, sozinho, sustentar o regime?

Quanto ao PSD, Santana Lopes disse ontem que é, literalmente, uma "casa de ódios". Não vale a pena insistir na balbúrdia eleitoral em curso e na irremediável mediocridade dos candidatos. Ou no congresso extraordinário, que se reunirá em Março, ninguém percebeu ainda por quê e para quê. O PSD "precisa de salvação", como explicou Santana? Com certeza que sim. Mas, "precisando de salvação", como se propõe esse náufrago salvar o país? Falta falar do CDS ordeiro e laborioso de Paulo Portas, que não sai e parece que nunca sairá do seu cantinho. Por muitos méritos que lhe atribuam ou que, de facto, tenha, contar com ele não é realista. Na II República já não existem partidos. Existem sombras de partidos, restos de partidos, destroços de partidos. O regime não irá durar muito.

Vasco Pulido Valente in Público 27/02/2010

Como o google está a moldar a próxima onda de inovação


And Google Begat...

The search giant's former employees are seeding tech startups—and shaping another wave of innovation

During the holidays last year, Aydin Senkut and Elad Gil gathered 50 of their friends at a health-food restaurant in Palo Alto. Over turkey burgers and tofu wraps, they talked about tech trends and how to get rich. Or, more precisely, how to get richer.
Senkut, Gil, and their dining circle are alumni of Google (GOOG), one of the greatest engines of wealth creation the U.S. has ever known. Since going public six years ago, Google has generated more than $170 billion for its employees and investors. Many of the millionaires the company has produced are young, wired into the latest developments in tech, and at ease with risk. Which explains why so many Google alums—including many of those at Senkut and Gil's gatherings—are active angel investors, attempting to add another zero to their bank accounts and another innovative company to their list of accomplishments. "I feel like we have such a strong network, it's almost like we've recreated Google outside of the Google walls," says Andrea Zurek, a 39-year-old backer of 26 startups.
More than 40 ex-Googlers have invested in about 200 fledgling companies since 2005, according to the research firm YouNoodle and reporting by Bloomberg BusinessWeek. At least a half dozen current Google executives, including CEO Eric Schmidt and co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, are also financing young companies. Numerous angel-watchers say the Google group has more in common than just pedigree. Unlike many venture capitalists, the Googlers like to swap investment ideas and back startups together. They're also willing to take big chances. "[They're getting into] very risky deals that can be extremely rewarding," says Jeff Clavier, a veteran venture capitalist who founded Palo Alto-based SoftTech VC in 2004. "They have been very active as a group over the past two to three years."


The results have been impressive. Companies backed by Googlers include Twitter, Tesla Motors, and gamemaker Tapulous. "As Google matures, its alums are continuing to have a huge impact on Silicon Valley and the tech industry," says Ron Conway, one of the Valley's most active angel investors, who has backed 190 companies, including Google, Facebook, and Twitter.
One reason for their success is that Google's angels have more to offer struggling entrepreneurs than just money. Bart Decrem, a Stanford University law grad, turned to the Google network when he was starting Tapulous in 2008. The company's Tap Tap Revenge game requires players to tap on-screen balls to the beat of a song—not exactly a sure thing of an idea. But Decrem thought the game might become a substantial business by selling it on Apple's (AAPL) iPhone. He raised $500,000 from a dozen angels, including Senkut and Zurek, who advised on strategy, connected the company with new partners in Asia, and helped it explore platforms for mobile phones that use Google's Android software. Today, Tap Tap games have been downloaded more than 25 million times and Tapulous is solidly profitable, with $1 million in revenues a month.
Google's Angels dabble in a wide variety of businesses. Zurek has money in a premium vodka maker and a South Korean frozen yogurt emporium. Yet the angels tend to concentrate their cash in what they know—search technology, mobile computing, and the consumer Internet. Already, Twitter, backed by former Google executive Chris Sacca, is the hottest startup in Silicon Valley, pioneering a new field of real-time communications. The online personal finance service, with money from Senkut, proved so popular that market leader Intuit (INTU) bought it for $170 million last year and made founder Aaron Patzer one of its top execs. Search provider Powerset, backed by Senkut, was acquired by Microsoft (MSFT) in 2008, and its technology became a key part of the Bing search engine.


The most active Google angel thus far is Senkut, a 40-year-old native of Turkey who has invested between $25,000 and $150,000 in more than 60 startups. Senkut joined Google in 1999 as its 63rd employee. He left in 2005 and promptly took his mother to Paris for her 60th birthday, purchased two multimillion-dollar homes in the Bay Area, and treated himself to a Lamborghini.
With that out of his system, he set about becoming a full-time angel. Senkut is often the first investor behind an idea, and to date 11 of the startups he helped fund have been bought by companies including Google, AT&T (T), and Microsoft. Senkut also fosters the investment of others by organizing two regular events for alums, one for angels and entrepreneurs, and another for all ex-employees, at spots such as the Calafia Café in Palo Alto, owned by Google's first in-house chef. Senkut is raising money for his firm, Felicis Ventures, according to two angel investors, and could not comment on his investments for this story. (Securities laws prevent the public solicitation of funds.) In an interview last October, though, before four of his companies were sold, Senkut said his investments had produced double-digit annualized returns and that, at the time, he was being pitched new business ideas several times a day.
If Senkut is the established star among the Google angels, Chris Sacca is the up-and-comer. The 34-year-old Georgetown University law grad joined Google in 2003 and left in 2007. Of the 31 startups he's backed, his biggest hit is Twitter, in which he invested $50,000 just as it was getting started in 2007.
Working out of a 3,000-square-foot home in Truckee, Calif., a small ski town near Lake Tahoe, Sacca hikes and snowshoes most mornings before breakfast and commutes to San Francisco for three days every two weeks. It's an unconventional way to supervise investments, but Sacca has an unconventional approach to investing, period.
One Friday night in December 2008, he posted a message on Twitter asking if any startups were working late. "We tweeted back, 'we're FanBridge and we work hard every Friday night,'" says Spencer Richardson, its 25-year-old co-founder. FanBridge makes software that helps musicians manage marketing and relationships with their fans. A few weeks later, Sacca flew to New York and met with the company's founders. "They had day jobs and built this site that had 20 million users, adding 100,000 users a day," says Sacca. "It was a no-brainer."
Over the next few months, Sacca invested $50,000 and pulled in several hundred thousand dollars from other angels. Last year, FanBridge's founders considered offering their products to authors, comedians, and other artists; Sacca advised them to stay focused on the music industry. Today, FanBridge is profitable and used by 55 million music fans. "The feedback from him was, 'start by being the best at something, then branch out,'" says Richardson.
The Google Angels may have several more breakout companies developing in their portfolios. Sacca has invested in Lookout, a promising developer of security software for mobile phones. Several ex-Googlers and current Vice-President Marissa Mayer are behind Square, which aims to displace credit-card swiping machines with a cheaper payment system that works through smartphones. And current Google exec Joshua Schachter helped finance Foursquare, a mobile phone service that lets friends share tips on local hotspots and is being used more than a million times a week. "What drives us is the innovation, the excitement of working with people we like," says Zurek.
Paul Graham, who co-founded the startup incubator Y Combinator, believes the tech industry has just begun to appreciate that Google's wealthy ex-employees may have not just a single innovative second act, but potentially hundreds of them. "When people write the history of Silicon Valley 20 years from now," says Graham, "the true impact of Google could come more from all the things that Google people go on to do after they leave Google."
Who are the top angel investors? To find out, go to
Ante is an associate editor for BusinessWeekKimberly Weisul is editor of BusinessWeek SmallBiz 

Leitura recomendada

Marcianos uma ova!...

Engenheiro - Com que então o senhor professor João Duque acha que pelo facto de o Governo ter retirado as concessões e subconcessões do quadro das parcerias público privadas no relatório do Orçamento de Estado de 2010...
Engenheiro - Com que então o senhor professor João Duque acha que pelo facto de o Governo ter retirado as concessões e subconcessões do quadro das parcerias público privadas no relatório do Orçamento de Estado de 2010, colocando-as noutro quadro que se lhe segue, mas ainda no mesmo Orçamento, quando no Orçamento de 2009 estava tudo no mesmo quadro, pressupõe uma desleal manipulação da verdade, e insinua que com isso queremos "enrolar" os portugueses. Francamente! Seja intelectualmente honesto!
João Duque - sr. engenheiro, o senhor lê rápido e fundo. Não escrevi exactamente isso, mas já que o diz e assim interpretou o meu anterior artigo publicado no Diário Económico, deixe-me "retocar-lhe" a leitura. O que eu quis mostrar é que a retirada dos elementos de um quadro para o outro em dois Orçamentos de Estado consecutivos, não respeita um dos mais consagrados princípios de apresentação de contas que o Estado obriga à sociedade civil e que é o da comparabilidade.
Engenheiro - Ora, ora meu caro, mas isso não é o que você escreveu! O que insinuou com aquela piada de mau gosto sobre marcianos a pagarem as nossas estradas, foi que o Governo manipulava os dados e isso é falso. Ouviu? Falso!
João Duque - Calma sr. engenheiro, não se irrite tanto. Em primeiro lugar eu não escrevi que o Governo manipulava os números. Apenas mostrei que, enquanto no Orçamento de 2008 e 2009 os encargos líquidos para o Estado com as parcerias público privadas (PPP) cresciam de ano para ano (18 mil milhões em 2008 e 23 mil milhões em 2009), quando se lê o Orçamento de 2010 esses encargos passavam para 8,5 mil milhões. Mas, já agora, deixe-me confessar-lhe que, ao esmiuçar mais os números fiquei deveras confuso.
O caso é que quando calculei o valor actual dos encargos líquidos para o Estado decorrentes das PPP, apenas e exclusivamente para as tais concessões e subconcessões rodoviárias, o valor apresentado no Orçamento de 2009 foi de 16,4 mil milhões de euros negativos. Mas no Orçamento de 2010 esse valor passou para um valor positivo de 6,9 mil milhões! Então que vem a ser isto?
E como não há referência a erros grosseiros nas estimativas do Orçamento anterior, então é porque esta diferença de 23,3 mil milhões só se pode ficar a dever às novas concessões e subconcessões rodoviárias que se esperam lançar no ano de 2010... Isto é, as novas concessões permitirão, só por si, um valor actual líquido positivo de 23 mil milhões a compensar as antigas que apresentavam valores descontroladamente negativos... Ou vamos todos pagar portagens em todo o lado, ou há benefícios financeiros inimagináveis para as estradas e auto-estradas projectadas para recônditos locais populosos de Portugal que ainda não descobrimos.
Porque das duas, uma: ou vamos pagar portagens da sala para o quarto de modo a que a Conta do Estado venha a registar este milagre, ou estamos a falar das estradas para o Paraíso. Mas conhecendo os homens, não será mais lucrativo portajar a passagem ao Inferno?
Valha-nos Deus...
João Duque, Professor Catedrático do ISEG

Best Winter Olympic Games 2010 commercials

Best Winter Olympic Games 2010 commercials

sábado, 27 de fevereiro de 2010

Estados querem televisões

por Martim Avillez Figueiredo, Publicado em 27 de Fevereiro de 2010 

Os Estados preferem ter mão nas televisões, mais que nos jornais. A revelação é feita por um estudo que olhou 97 países e revela os impactos terríveis deste caminho. Veja ao lado o estudo de Simeon Bjankov que aponta para estas conclusões

Simeon Djankov é ministro das Finanças da Bulgária e conhece vagamente a difícil situação financeira de Portugal - mas Djankov pode ajudar muito pouco aí: a Bulgária viu as suas receitas fiscais baixarem 11% e a economia cair mais de 2% em 2009. Onde este economista, um dos 100 mais citados do mundo apesar de ter apenas 40 anos, pode ajudar o país é nesta terrível trapalhada sobre o controlo da imprensa nacional.

Djankov analisou com rigor obsessivo a imprensa de 97 países e chegou à conclusão que quem detém jornais e televisões são o Estado e as famílias privadas. E revela: o Estado prefere sempre as televisões. Em números, famílias privadas detêm 57% de jornais e 34% de estações de televisão. Já os Estados, detêm 29% dos jornais e 60% das televisões. A guerra em Portugal, como se sabe, envolvia a televisão que lidera as audiências (TVI). Mas isto tudo, sublinha Djankov, pode até parecer óbvio a toda a gente. O que não é evidente antes do seu estudo é que esta posse da comunicação pelo Estado tem influências fortes nos resultados económicos de um país, nos níveis de corrupção e no bem-estar social, sobretudo nos níveis de educação e saúde.

Em Portugal, como se sabe, o Estado detém um canal de televisão e uma agência de notícias. Já os jornais portugueses são detidos, como o estudo prova, por famílias (por oposição a capital disperso por pequenos accionistas). O que todas estas comissões de ética - e pedidos de comissão parlamentar - revelam é que a liberdade de imprensa funciona por cá: ou pelo menos revela que as alegadas tentativas para limitar essa autonomia não foram suficientes para impedir a revelação da notícia do i, em Julho, dando conta do interesse da PT na TVI, e agora na publicação das escutas pelo semanário "Sol". O que os estudos de Djankov ajudam a perceber é que o assunto merece toda esta discussão e toda esta atenção, tanto na Assembleia da República como junto dos reguladores e da opinião pública. Não é brincadeira.

Lenin, esse mesmo, perguntava na sua União Soviética "a quem servia a liberdade de imprensa". A sua tese era simples: se a informação é um bem público, tem de ser garantido pelo Estado - como o subsídio de desemprego, por exemplo. De outra forma, pensava Lenin, essa garantia da informação para todos ficaria nas mãos dos privados: e estes podiam não cumprir. O que Djankov revela é que Lenin estava errado (sim, agora é evidente) e vai ainda mais longe: os países onde o Estado detém mais jornais e televisões apresentam piores resultados na educação, uma esperança de vida menor, má nutrição e uma maior mortalidade infantil.

A estatística raramente vale mais do aquilo que pode: números, tendências, padrões. Mas ajuda a entender a relevância de uma discussão, e a contrariar o que disse Francisco Assis, qualquer coisa como: "Nada indica que a liberdade de imprensa está em risco." Não é preciso que esteja: os efeitos negativos desta tendência começam muito antes. E é por isso que este assunto não pode ficar por aqui.

sexta-feira, 26 de fevereiro de 2010

A economia portuguesa

Excelente análise via theportugueseeconomy

How bad is it?

Currently, Portugal faces not one, not two, but three crises, all of them presenting important challenges for the country‘s policymakers. All these crises are somewhat related, but it is worthwhile to study them separately in order to simplify. What are Portugal’s three crises then? First, in the last decade or so, Portugal has exhibited a low productive potential, which has been reflected in low rates of economic growth. Second, the country is increasingly facing a challenging crisis with regards to its public finances. And, third, in the last few years, Portugal has experienced substantial external imbalances, which have been translated into large trade deficits and an ever-increasing level of indebtness.
In order to understand what’s at stake, it is useful to look at the past to see how all these crises compare to previous episodes in the country’s history. Let’s start with the country’s productive potential, the most important crisis facing Portugal. As we can see in Figure 1, in the last decade or so, average growth rates have fallen to levels that have not been seen in Portugal since the 1910s, an era of substantial political and economic turmoil.

Figure 1 _ Portuguese GDP growth (HP filter), 1900-2007
Source: Maddison dataset

The same trend appears when we look at potential output in the last 15 years (figure 2): there is a steady decline in the growth of potential output from the mid 1990s onwards, a decline that was exacerbated after Portugal’s entry to the single currency. 
(Portugal is not unique in this respect, since other European countries, such as Italy, have exhibited exactly the same pattern of low growth after 1999).
Figure 2 _ Growth of Potential GDP, 1965-2009
Source: AMECO, European Commission

Studies have shown that this steady decline in average rates of growth is explained not only by Portugal’s “competitiveness problems” in the world markets (as many in this blog have emphasized), but also by a declining productivity and a sharp deceleration of investment.
On the other hand, the economic crisis of the last decade was exacerbated by the ineffectiveness of economic policy. As many studies have shown, in the last 10 years or so, economic policy has been notoriously pro-cyclical (and expenditure-based), which has reduced the effectiveness of policy to respond in recessionary times.
Once again, it is worthwhile looking at the past to see how uncommon Portugal’s fiscal woes really are. How bad is the crisis in Portugal’s country finances by historical standards? The answer is: not so bad, at least until recently. As we can see in figure 3, it is true that Portugal’s current public debt is reaching levels that hadn’t reached since the tumultuous 1920s. It is also true that if the predictions of the European Commission (shaded line) are correct (i.e. that Portugal’s public debt will reach 91% of GDP in 2011), then, in a couple of years, Portugal will reach its highest public debt in percentage of GDP for almost a century. Still, and in spite of the lack of real fiscal consolidation in the last few years, it is also true that, if it weren’t for the international crisis of 2008, Portugal would not be in such a weak position with regards to its public debt. Of course, this is not much of a consolation today, when the country faces serious credibility issues in the international markets.

Figure 3 _ Portuguese public debt in % of GDP, 1900-2009
Source: 1900-1973: Mata e Valério (1994), 1974-2009: AMECO, European Commission

Finally, Portugal’s external crisis is both related to the country’s entry to the euro (and the loss of competitiveness due to the adoption of a strong currency and the rise in unit labor costs that many have already mentioned in the blog), as well as with the liberalization of world trade and the EU’s expansion to Eastern Europe. As a recent study by the Bank of Portugal suggests, in the last 15 years or so, China and Eastern Europe became fierce competitors of Portugal’s traditional exports, which decreased Portugal’s market share in international markets. Again, how uncommon are Portugal’s external imbalances? If we look at net exports (in percentage of GDP), we can clearly see that Portugal has a chronic balance of trade deficit problem. The only exception was during World War II, when the country benefited from its neutrality. However, as the graph below also shows, the current trade deficit is not so large, at least by historical standards.

Figure 4 _ Portuguese net exports (goods and services) in % of GDP,
Source: 1910-1953: Baptista, Martins, Pinheiro e Reis (1997), 1954-1976: Banco de Portugal Séries Longas, 1977-2009: Banco de Portugal Estatísticas

Thus, the main differences with the past are twofold. First, in the past, trade imbalances were financed by the remittances of the country’s large emigrant community and/or by revenues from the colonies. Obviously, these mechanisms are not longer available (although things might change with the recent large outflow of new emigrants).
Second, the real break with the past (in the last 80 years or so) has mostly to do with the country’s level of external indebtness. The latter is also partly related to the country’s adhesion to the euro and the associated fall in interest rates. However, since this is already a long post, this topic will be the subject of future considerations.
Alvaro Santos Pereira

Google facts & figures

via Royal Pingdom

quinta-feira, 25 de fevereiro de 2010

Wall Street’s Euro Scams

Lobbyists are quietly working to ensure the secret derivatives deals behind the euro crisis stay secret

"Behind each great historical phenomenon," Niall Ferguson has written, "lies a financial secret." So it is with Europe's latest identity crisis. Greece's euro troubles have a lot to do with its fiscal irresponsibility and the instability at the heart of European Monetary Union—a group of countries that sometimes behave like "the United States of Europe" and at other times revert to nationalistic petulance (witness German resistance to a Greek rescue). But the Greek panic—and fears of a euro collapse and another financial contagion—also have a great deal to do with secret derivatives deals orchestrated by big American banks. As a result, the euro crisis is casting, yet again, a harsh light on efforts by Wall Street lobbyists to gut proposed rules requiring transparency in trading.

As always with European crises, we start out thinking they should be left for the Europeans to fix. Then we get dragged in. Only this time, we discover, Goldman Sachs and other investment banks already dragged us in years ago. Their strategy dates back to the '90s, when countries such as Greece and Italy, with chronic fiscal deficits, were eager to join the EMU but couldn't match the standards of budget discipline imposed by the 1992 Maastricht Treaty. So Wall Street helped them hide their true national indebtedness, at a high price. But these deals only made the crisis worse when the market reckoning finally came. This is not a new phenomenon. Many previous currency crises, going back to Asia in 1997–98 and Mexico in 1994–95, were exacerbated by overleveraged derivatives trades that were not revealed until much later. In those earlier cases it was the local banks, not the governments, that cut quiet swaps deals to juice their income. When Mexico decided in December 1994 that it would try to devalue the peso by just 10 percent, hundreds of millions of dollars of off-the-books derivatives deals turned the effort into a market rout. All of a sudden Mexico's major banks were hit with margin calls from U.S. banks, taking Mexico's central bank by surprise. The result was a $50 billion bailout orchestrated by Washington—the first of many, with Wall Street the main beneficiary nearly every time (though to be fair, the Treasury ultimately made a profit from Mexico's paybacks, too). The Asia crisis played out similarly, with Asian banks also badly hit.
A number of publications have exposed the ways in which Goldman and other firms helped Greece, and countries such as Italy and Spain, disguise their true indebtedness using swaps and other complex instruments that make government borrowing appear to be something else, like a currency trade or asset sale. In some cases, like a swap deal Italy did in the late '90s to defer interest payments on a bond issue, allowing it to squeak into the union, such instruments may have helped in the long run—assuming the euro zone and Italy's place in it remain intact. But many such deals, by pulling the wool over the eyes of investors, also "led governments down the wrong policy path of avoiding to take strict measures to rein in their deficits and debt," says Gikas Hardouvelis, an Athens-based economist who has documented Greece's transactions with Wall Street.
Little-publicized deals like these help to explain the mystifying profit levels of Wall Street, even after the crisis. For two decades, Wall Street's biggest money machine has been driven by a formula: create very complex deals with high profit margins and leverage up to do the deals in volume. The complexity is made possible by the freedom that Washington regulators have given the banks to structure little-understood derivatives off public exchanges, or "over the counter." These hard-to-understand deals—labyrinthine structures that combine swaps in different currencies, for example—permit the banks to charge huge "spreads" to customers like the Greek government because the deals are "customized" or one-time-only affairs not subject to public scrutiny or competitive pricing. And it's not over for Athens or other weaker sisters such as Spain and Portugal. The OTC swaps market "is currently pushing Greece to the edge," says Hardouvelis. "Hedge funds and banks can bet on the cost of Greek government debt by taking positions in the CDS [credit default swaps] market without owning Greek debt. In a thinly traded underlying bond market, the derivative CDS market can cause damage and is prone to manipulation by insiders."
The big banks are desperate to protect this cash cow. So while Washington is all a-dither over the deficit and health care—and partisan battles over which party is more partisan—the legal moles of Wall Street are silently at work boring holes in legislation on Capitol Hill. Among other things, the banks are working hard to exempt foreign-currency trading from proposed new rules requiring most derivatives trading to be done on open and regulated exchanges. They also want to exempt "end user" customers of derivatives, like major corporations and governments.
It is precisely many of these end users, like Greece, that are the Street's biggest patsies. Typically these deals, while ostensibly helpful, only make the customers poorer in the end and the financial crises that result from them more frequent and more severe. The Greek government was like a hapless credit-card holder who is mortgaged to the hilt. Athens sold off everything from airport landing fees to lottery revenues to Wall Street and then took on impossible debt at exorbitant rates. Its fiscal deficits are still there—only now, because of the extra interest, they're larger. So it will cost Greece much more to dig out. And the government has fewer options now beyond hoping for a bailout, making the crisis more acute.
Some critics, such as Michael Greenberger, a former deputy head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) who has followed the new derivatives legislation closely, think that the Obama administration is supporting a forex exemption to help Washington and other governments continue to cut quiet deals to mask their own real indebtedness. "The question is: is the U.S. using swaps to throw financial obligations into the future to make it appear that the deficit is less than it really is? Why else does it matter whether the transaction would be transparent?" he asks. "These are unsavory deals not only because they hide the real parameters of sovereign debt, but the price of the masking is unconscionable to the citizens of the sovereign country. If these deals were transparent, it would be politically impossible to enter into them because they are so one-sided in the long term." The deals also encourage bad behavior and require the governments to pay up more in the end as well distorting the fiscal agreements that admit them entry into the EMU.
The Obama administration has shifted course on this issue. In June it issued a white paper calling for all standardized swaps to be regulated. But then, in August, the Treasury Department proposed legislative language that for the first time included exemptions from clearing and exchange trading for foreign-exchange swaps. The proposed exemption was never fully explained and drew criticism from CFTC chairman Gary Gensler. Among those concerned about such practices is deficit hawk Bob Corker, one of the few GOP senators willing to work on bipartisan financial reform. "I'm very aware of the fact that Greece mortgaged its future…and of the role these types of derivatives have played in hiding current problems," Corker said. Asked about the Senate version of the financial-reform bill (the House has already passed it), which has become embroiled in partisan infighting, Corker said: "We are sort of starting from scratch."
Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe it's time, in the wake of the euro crisis, to reconsider Wall Street's global reach from scratch.

quarta-feira, 24 de fevereiro de 2010

Leitura recomendada

A propósito deste anúncio da nova marca Wines of Portugal este excelente artigo do Pedro Bidarra no i veio mesmo a calhar:

O país do Porto

por Pedro Bidarra, Publicado em 23 de Fevereiro de 2010 

O vinho da Bulgária é óptimo, dizem os búlgaros.

Imagina-se a jantar em Londres, com uma companhia deslumbrante, e a pedir um vinho da Bulgária?

O vinho português é óptimo, dizemos nós. É capaz de ser, mas isso não chega para ser uma referência no exterior. O mundo tem muito vinho e cada vez melhor. Nós cá também, mas não o vendemos muito por lá.

Há muitas razões e "economics" para que isso aconteça. Uma delas é que Portugal não é no mundo um país de vinhos, pelo menos com o nível de França, Itália, Espanha ou dos países do Novo Mundo. Falta- -nos top of mind, legitimidade, cachê. Falta-nos uma história para contar.

Acontece que nós temos uma história, um atalho para a cabeça do consumidor "global" que trará a legitimidade para sermos considerados país de bons vinhos. Uma história que ninguém conta e que podia alavancar a notoriedade dos nosso vinhos de mesa.

A história chama-se "vinho do Porto" e conta-se facilmente: o vinho do Porto é conhecido em todo o mundo, apreciado, tem história, é complexo, guloso, feito com castas únicas, que só por cá se dão. Ora o consumidor global acreditará que os que têm o saber para fazer Porto saberão com certeza fazer vinhos de mesa excepcionais, e não terá por isso dúvidas em pedir, em qualquer restaurante do mundo, um vinho do país do Porto, um vinho que só pode ser bom.

Bem podemos ir a feiras, pôr selos a dizer Vinhos Premium ou falar das nossas castas únicas. A Bulgária pode fazer o mesmo.

Vinhos do país do Porto só nós. É este o atalho para a cabeça do consumidor. Já o atalho para as cabeças dos responsáveis do sector nunca o consegui encontrar. Está cheio de mato.
Vice-presidente da BBDO

The Poverty of Stimulus

por Bradford Cornell

PASADENA, CALIFORNIA – Most economists think that macroeconomic disruptions, such as the current recession, can be understood in terms of aggregate indicators such as total employment, the price level, and the money supply. But this view is misleading, particularly in the current economic situation. Worse yet, it misleads us into counterproductive economic policies.
As the economist Fischer Black explained, an economy matches a population’s desires to the available resources and production technology. When an economy is operating efficiently, expectations are largely fulfilled; desires, resources, and production technology are well matched; and people are reasonably satisfied with their plans, relations, and contracts.
But if the world evolves in a markedly unanticipated direction, people’s existing plans, relations, and contracts require revision. The existing matches between desires, resources, and production technology deteriorate. While this revision occurs, resources are diverted from production, which is less efficient and less well matched with consumer desires, resulting in a reduction in the value of output – a recession.
This “realignment theory” helps explain the current downturn. From 2000 through 2007, millions of American homeowners entered into mortgage contracts to finance their homes. Securities based on those contracts ended up, in part, in the hands of financial institutions. But the adequate servicing of the debt and, therefore, the performance of the securities, were based on expectations of continued rises in housing prices that proved to be unrealistic. When housing prices fell, so did the value of the mortgages and the securities based upon them.
Because financial institutions held much of these securities, their market values declined as well, leaving balance sheets in need of restructuring, particularly given their highly leveraged capital structures. Awaiting that restructuring, financial institutions could not perform as usual, which impeded financial intermediation and called into question plans, relations, and contracts – such as corporate and residential investment or refinancing.
Meanwhile, consumers who held a substantial fraction of their wealth in housing were forced to revise their consumption plans in the face of declining values. This affected all the producers, distributors, and retailers whose plans and contracts were based on now-obsolete expectations.
And so it goes. Eventually, the required restructuring became so widespread that it impacted virtually every sector of the economy. The current recession is as deep as the misalignment of specialized plans, relations, and contracts is extensive. Construction workers cannot become software developers overnight. Automobile companies cannot adjust immediately to a change in consumer preferences regarding what type of cars they want to purchase, or how frequently.  Would-be financiers cannot adjust to these plans overnight.
An obvious question is whether the government can do anything to speed the restructuring process or reduce its cost. If the government could identify how the economy needed to be restructured and provide incentives to move resources more quickly in that direction, a properly designed program could alleviate and shorten the recession. But, if the government could do that, central planning would be a good deal simpler.
Moreover, just as a command economy is invariably less efficient at resource allocation and production than a market economy, a general stimulus program will, in all likelihood, lead to highly inefficient allocations, effectively burning resources at a time when they are scarce and particularly vital to restart and re‑align our beleaguered economies. To the extent that it is used to prop up declining industries, the stimulus could even prove harmful by delaying necessary adjustments.
Viewed from a matching perspective, there is no failure of “aggregate demand” – whatever that means. Instead, there is a complex misalignment problem – too many autoworkers when too few people want new cars, for example – that results in a decline in overall output. Thus, it is possible that increased government spending – say, to boost car purchases – could exacerbate the misalignment.
Given the central role of financial intermediation in the current crisis, the government should instead expedite the restructuring process through bankruptcy law. The key is to accept bad news: losses must be recognized before efficient realignment can occur.
This suggests the following solution to the banking crisis. First, the value of financial institutions’ investments should immediately be marked down to their market values. Based on those values, contracts with existing equity and debt holders should then be restructured. If the losses are big enough that existing equity and debt holders are wiped out, government insurers should make up the difference to protect depositors. Following that, the restructured bank can be recapitalized by raising new debt and equity. From that point, the bank should operate normally.
Unfortunately, this elegant solution assumes away all the problems associated with the complex web of contracts and relationships that constitutes the financial system, the limited information of all the affected parties, and the incentive of each of those parties to protect its own interests. For example, there is no agreement on the market values of financial institutions’ housing‑related assets. As a result, restructuring has been time consuming, costly, and characterized by intense lobbying, rent-seeking, stop‑and‑go policy making, and the continued failure of credit markets to function efficiently.
If the government could help break this logjam, in a fashion similar to the manner in which courts expedite corporate bankruptcy, the benefits could be large. To the extent that government becomes involved in restructuring financial institutions, it should avoid unnecessary wealth transfers from taxpayers to the security holders of the financial institutions. Beyond that, the realignment process is best left largely to private agents. The government has neither the necessary information nor the proper incentives to do the job.