Stokes’ Westrac play: From the ‘we wish we hadn’t said that basket’. In the documents supporting the proposed merger of Seven Network and WesTrac and the creation of Seven Group Holdings, issued in late February, independent directors of Seven Network said:

“The Independent Directors believe that the merger will alleviate market concerns related to re-investment risks, and will reduce or eliminate the value discount currently applied to Seven’s share price.”

On the ASX yesterday that value discount widened to its largest since Seven Group Holdings floated in early May.

In fact, investors gave Kerry Stokes’ deal to buy $US250 million worth of shares in the forthcoming float of China’s Agricultural Bank a very decisive thumbs down yesterday, pushing the share price to a new low. Seven Group shares have gradually sunk from around $7.60 in early May when it floated, to around $6.16 on Tuesday and then $5.98 yesterday.

NZ grows: The NZ economy grew 0.6% on the March quarter from December, when it rose 0.9%, according to a report this morning. That left growth 1.9% above the March, 2009 quarter and compathres to the 3.1% contraction in GDP between March 2008 and March 2009.

Fed hedge: It’s not only banks and businesses that hedge their financial positions, especially at times of stress. Policymakers are known to indulge, nothing exotic, just a bit of one hand and on the other stuff. And the post-meeting statement from the US Federal Reserve’s Open Markets Committee meeting this morning showed signs of a bit of hedging on the downside.

“The economic recovery is proceeding”, was one phrase in this morning’s statement, but that is weaker than what was said about the recovery in the post-April meeting statement when it was noted that the economy had “continued to strengthen”. Inflation remains low, and is still easing, housing and construction are slipping deeper into their black holes, unemployment is persistently high, no need to cut rates, and perhaps a weather eye on prices and a growing concern about housing.

Fed watch 2: In fact, if anything there was a further scaling back of the strength of the recovery, with the central bank noting pockets of weakness, and it did surprise with cautionary comment about what was happening in the markets, especially Europe (although Europe was not specifically mentioned). “Financial conditions have become less supportive of economic growth on balance, largely reflecting developments abroad,” the Fed said. Markets in the US sighed and eased, gold, copper and oil were all weaker by the close, US interest rates fell, with the 10 year bond back around 3.11%.

Housing, double dip anyone? the Fed’s comments that financial conditions “have become less supportive of economic growth” seems to have been a key point. It came after a shock 33% plunge in new home sales in May from April as the home buyers credit ended. That was far worse than any forecast. And while some analysts attempted to put the best possible light on it (such as ‘not unexpected’ after the tax credit ended), the 300,000 annual rate was the lowest since 1963 (no one got near, the market forecast was a 430,000 rate) and lower than at any time during the crunch in 2008 and 2009. Coming a day after a large- than-expected fall in sales of existing homes in May, some commentators said ‘double dip’ for housing. So the Fed’s remarks about the downturn in financial conditions fell on receptive ears, and down went bond yields, to where they were a couple of weeks ago and in May when Europe was really on the nose. Mortgage applications are low and most are refinancing, not a good sign for future new and used house sales.

Only in America: And speaking of the housing tax credit, figures out in the US overnight reveal, incredibly, that more than 1,200 prison inmates, including 241 people serving life sentences, defrauded the government of $US9.1 million in tax credits reserved for first-time homebuyers. According to the US Treasury, thousands of other people filed multiple claims or made claims outside the allotted time period. In all, more than $US28 million was improperly paid out. The plan was for tax credits of up to $US8,000 to qualifying first-time home buyers as a way of stimulating new and used home sales. It was extended from last October to April. But, according to the Treasury report, 4,608 state and federal inmates filed for these tax credits, and that fraudulent refunds were doled out to 1,295 of them. The worst were 715 prisoners serving life sentences, of which 241 were awarded $US1.7 million. 61% of these were in Florida, which is one of the states were the subprime crisis and banking failures hit deepest.

Jobs watch: America’s June unemployment figures are out on the night of Friday July 2, Australian time, and already a bad number is being forecast. Why? Well, just as Census employment boosted the May figure overall, Census-related job losses will see June’s figure slashed. The Census Bureau has started releasing tens of thousands of temporary workers hired for the once-a-decade national population count. An update on the Bureau’s website said it had 330,737 temporary workers on its payroll in the week ended June 12. That is the period the Labor Department typically uses to calculate its monthly employment data. In the same week in May the Bureau said it had  573,779 temporary Census workers. In May employment rose by 431,000, with 411,000 temporary Census jobs added that month. Private employers only added 41,000 in the month, much less than forecast.

A Euro Date Next Wednesday?: More eurozone fear and loathing. June 30, might be the end of our financial year and the second quarter around the world, but in Europe, its also the day when all those now junk Greek bonds have to drop out of the various indices. While there has been some selling, expect a bit more. The European Central Bank (ECB) is the only buyer. Could be over 100 billion euros of bonds are no longer investment grade and can’t be held by lots of current owners, and can’t be in the various bond market indexes.

Lonely banks club next Thursday? That’s July 1 when the 12 month ECB 12 month 442 billion euro liquidity scheme, called the Long Term Refinancing Option (LTRO) is due to expire. That could send the London Interbank Offered Rate (the key global short term interbank interest rate) up sharply by 0.50% to around 1%, by some estimates until the situation becomes clearer. If that happens, watch markets and market liquidity go arghhhhhh. The ECB has a three month LTRO (the current one also ends on June 30) which will hopefully see money from the 12 month facility switch into the September quarter one and push it out until September 30. Then there’s the 440 billion EU backstop agreed in May.

Blind dates, really The key, what happens in Spain, Ireland, Greece and Portugal where banks have been using up to 200 billion euros a day of  ECB money to keep liquidity in the various banking banking systems flowing? Spain’s banks have owned up to 85 billion euros a day, Greece is nearly 80 billion, according to some estimates and Portugal’s banks this week were revealed as being on the drip for 35 billion euros a day, more than double April’s 17 billion. The 12 month facility was supposed to wean Euro banks off ECB help. If they roll into the 3 month facility, we will know that the banks are weak, with questionable security, poor assets and the so-called stress tests might not be worth the paper they composed on. Apparently German banks have been using an extra 17 billion euros of ECB money as well.

Austerity watch: France, oh France, all worried about the failure of their soccer team with President Sarkozy involved and seemingly more interested in that failure than moving to cut spending, debt and the budget deficit, apart from the symbolic. Heads will no doubt roll around the Bastille over the failure of the team with the President summoning the Prime Minister, François Fillon for talks on the World Cup failure overnight. The President’s handlers also let it be known that he had cancelled the palace’s traditional Bastille Day garden party on July 14 as a cost saving. According to the Financial Times the saving was a whole 733,000 euros. France has had more success in winning the World Cup (once, in 1998) than it has in cutting the budget deficit. It hasn’t had a balanced budget for 30 years.

Arc d’debt: So it shouldn’t be a surprise that a report from the government’s top financial watchdogs, the Court of Auditors, says the country’s budget deficit will hit 7% of GDP in 2011 without new spending cuts being made. France is the only country not to have detailed spending cuts; it has revealed freezes on public service pay and transfers to local governments, cutting tax breaks and attempted to push out the retirement age, but it hasn’t followed the UK, Spain or Greece, for example, in cutting into spending cuts and real tax rises, and probably will try and avoid any real cuts until after the Presidential poll in 2012. Around 100 billion euros of cuts are needed to bring the deficit back to 3%, which is the level demanded in EU agreements.

Peter Fray

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