Hold on Tight... Fed Day Could Bring a Number of Changes Sep 17, 2014 08:23AM

The FOMC wraps up its 2-day meeting today and is expected to deliver its policy statement at 2PM ET. The meeting and subsequent press conference is considered very important by market watchers as the Fed is expected to make a number of changes which could have widespread ramifications on asset prices.

Economists at Nomura expect to receive another round of FOMC forecasts for the first time since June, which they say will incorporate significant new data. The forecasts should also be extended to 2017, thus giving a better sense of how the participants judge the current balance between actual and potential output.

They also expect the Fed to make changes to its forward guidance. "At a minimum, we expect the FOMC to add language that stresses the “data dependence” of future interest rate decisions," they said. They expect the FOMC will continue to state that the adjustment of interest rates, when it comes, will be “balanced” and that it expects interest rates to converge to normal levels more slowly than employment and inflation. However, "in the light of the sustained improvement in labour market performance, and the inherent complexities in assessing their state, we expect the FOMC to drop its assessment that “lift-off” is still a “considerable time” away."

Nomura said these change reflect the progress of the US recovery. The changes are also easier to make because the current state of financial markets - stable long-term interest rates and resilient financial conditions - gives the FOMC some comfort that it can take another step towards normalizing policy without an outsized impact on the economy.

"Although we expect substantial changes to the FOMC’s forward guidance, we do not think that the FOMC will want to send a signal that a “lift-off” is imminent. In this context, we continue to believe that the most likely timing for the first interest rate hike is June 2015. However, recent developments in US monetary policy have shifted the risk around our call forward."


FreeSeas (FREE) Complets $12.25M Sale of M/V 'Free Jupiter' Sep 16, 2014 09:08AM

FreeSeas (Nasdaq: FREE) announced that it has sold to unrelated third parties the M/V 'Free Jupiter' for USD 12,250,000 and subsequently entered into a long term bareboat charter with the vessel's new Owners.

The vessel has been chartered by the Company for seven years at a rate of USD 5,325 per day on bareboat charter terms typical for this type of transaction which grant the Company the full commercial utilization of the vessel against payment of the charter rate to her Owners. In addition, the terms of the charter afford a number of purchase options during its course. An amount of USD 3,750,000 was deposited by the Company as security for the fulfillment of the terms of the charter.

Mr. Ion Varouxakis, the Company's Chairman, President and CEO made the following statement: "We are pleased to announce today's transaction which releases significant liquidity and evidences the Company's ability to leverage its balance sheet at an opportune time without diluting its shareholders. The additional liquidity will provide invaluable balance sheet flexibility as part of our growth strategy moving forward, which follows the recently announced debt extinguishment and forgiveness which significantly reduced the Company's bank debt to USD 23 million from USD 90 million within the space of a few months." Mr. Varouxakis added: "The bareboat charter rate allows for significant upside from future operating earnings, especially as the market improves, while the purchase options allow participation in potential future asset appreciation. The vessel will be deployed in the spot market, which has shown recent signs of improvement."


Investors Could Be Lowballing Risk of FOMC Hawkishness, Says Citi Sep 12, 2014 03:10PM

Citi Bank analyst Steven Englander discussed FOMC policy in a research note to clients. Wednesday’s announcement is expected to be the key event next week, with wide implications.

Englander thinks it is probably at least 40% expected that the language will shift from keeping fed funds near zero for a ‘considerable time’ to more data dependent policy guidance. From an FX standpoint, Englander said USD could correct 0.5%-1% if dovish language is retained. On the other hand, he thinks investors could be lowballing risk of FOMC hawkishness.

“Dropping ‘considerable time’ would be a major hawkish step, even if replaced by a ‘data dependent’ pace of rate hikes and a FOMC view that considerable slack remains in place. It would be seen as opening up room for hiking before mid-2015 and as opening risk of a faster move of policy rates to their equilibrium,” said Englander.

“There is speculation that the FOMC may drop the language indicating ‘significant underutilization of labor resources’, but investors will likely see that as secondary. Were they to drop the ‘considerable time’ language, but keep ‘underutilization’ it would still be hawkish from a FX market perspective, because the operational shift would be the dropping of the time commitment. Keeping ‘considerable time’ and dropping ‘underutilization’ would probably be viewed as somewhat dovish, as the concrete assurance of low rates would outweigh the assessment of utilization,” he continued.

"The other uncertainty is whether and how much the dots and economic forecasts move. This is less discussed than the FOMC language, but may be as important," he added. "It is expected that Fed Chair Yellen will strike a dovish tone at the press conference, even if the Statement and forecasts are viewed as more hawkish. We are skeptical that she can walk back concrete hawkishness (such as removal of ‘considerable time’ or shifting dots) with a qualitative press conference comfort message, but this is debated and she is expected to try."


UPDATE: S&P Upgrades Greece from 'B-' to 'B'; Risks to Fiscal Consolidation Have Faded Sep 12, 2014 11:47AM

(Updated - September 12, 2014 11:47 AM EDT)

On Sept. 12, 2014, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services raised its long-term foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings on the Hellenic Republic (Greece) to 'B' from 'B-'. At the same time, we affirmed the short-term sovereign credit ratings at 'B'. The outlook is stable.


RATIONALE

The upgrade reflects our view that risks to fiscal consolidation in Greece have abated. We forecast that, from next year, the Greek economy will emerge from seven consecutive years of negative growth. We expect recovering real and nominal GDP will enable Greece to operate average primary surpluses of 2% of GDP during 2014-2017. This is less than the 4.5% of GDP target the government envisioned in its program with the European Union (EU), the European Central Bank (ECB), and the IMF (together, the "Troika"), but we believe the lower estimate is politically more feasible than the government's target and consistent with a modest decline in government debt as a share of GDP.

We expect the government to absorb an increased share of EU funds, further widen its tax base, and improve tax collection. On the other hand, we believe the government has little room for further maneuver on the expenditure side. We believe it will carry out modest tax cuts, and we acknowledge downside risks to our forecast should deflationary pressure in the economy become entrenched.

We also view as low the likelihood of additional step-rises in government debt due to bank recapitalizations: the four largest domestic banks have raised €8.4 billion of capital directly from the markets and the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund has a balance of €11 billion for any capital calls from the public sector. Although the government may receive additional debt relief from official creditors, we do not anticipate it will approach private sector creditors for a third rescheduling. We also assume the government will continue to service the approximately €3 billion of debt held by creditors who did not participate in the two debt exchanges of 2012.

In our view, the Greek government's gross borrowing requirements of about €43 billion (19% of GDP) over the next 15 months will be partly met by Greek banks repaying "pillar-one" bonds back to the government, as well as intergovernment lending within the broader public sector and, more marginally, through privatization. We also expect about €20 billion to be raised in domestic local-law markets, about €12 billion from official lenders, and up to €5 billion from additional foreign bond placements.

As a result, we expect the gross government debt stock to broadly stabilize in nominal terms, declining slightly to 164% of GDP in 2017 from a peak of 177% in 2014. We note, however, that even at this somewhat lower level, Greece's general government debt stock will remain among the highest of all the sovereigns we rate.

That said, since the April and May 2012 public debt restructurings, other aspects of Greece's debt profile have improved. At 15.8 years currently, the average maturity of the Greek government's debt stock has more than doubled (it was 6.3 years in 2011). Of Greek central government debt, 72% is now noncommercial, with interest rates consistently below-market. Furthermore--and partly reflecting the European Financial Stability Facility allowing the Greek government to defer second-program interest payments for the first 10 years--the average interest rate paid on the noncommercial stock of debt is less than 2.0%, compared to our average nominal GDP projection of 2.8% for 2015-2017. Moreover, about 40% of Greece's commercial debt is held by the ECB and the central banks of the Eurosystem. (We classify bonds held by the Eurosystem as commercial debt since we view these holdings as monetary and not fiscal operations.)

We view Greece's economic recovery as gradual but weak, with 2017 real GDP still 20% lower than in 2007. A 16% decrease in unit labor costs between 2008 and 2013 has helped Greece's tourism sector. Its small manufacturing sector, however, has not benefited to the same extent (unlike in Spain, Portugal, or Ireland). Investment, still 40% below the 2007 rate, should pick up but only slowly. We believe investment levels will be constrained by a lack of confidence, an ineffective monetary transmission mechanism, and limited foreign direct investment. Household consumption will only gradually benefit from eventual job market stabilization.

We expect the current account to remain broadly balanced in 2014-2017 against a deficit of 11% of GDP in 2009. Although the services sector has been buoyant, most of the adjustment has taken place through a decrease in imports. Greece's capital and financial accounts have adjusted through strong EU fund inflows, debt forgiveness, and fresh market funding.

Despite this positive shift in external flow dynamics, Greece's external vulnerabilities persist: it has high external debt and limited monetary flexibility. We estimate external debt at about 450% of current account receipts in 2014 (net of public and financial sector external assets). In particular, about half of Greece's gross external debt stock is short term, mostly contracted by Greek banks, and therefore has to be rolled over. We anticipate that cross-border interbank deposits will stabilize, while ECB funding--about 20% of total banking system liabilities--will remain in place.

While we expect the Greek government will broadly adhere to the current policy framework, we view Greece's complicated political and policy environment as a ratings weakness. Even though reforms have so far supported fiscal performance and progress in restructuring of the economy, social tensions and a weak institutional framework remain.


OUTLOOK
The outlook is stable, balancing our view of Greece's progress in fiscal consolidation against the still-weak economic recovery and political resolve to continue with structural and institutional reforms. The outlook also assumes no further distressed exchanges on Greece's remaining stock of commercial debt.

We could raise our long-term ratings on Greece if GDP growth were to increase more than we currently expect, or if the institutional framework were to strengthen significantly. This could result in structural reforms to the labor and product markets bearing fruit more rapidly than we foresee, or the banking system rehabilitating to the extent that it can provide more dynamic credit growth.

We could lower the ratings if the government does not succeed in stabilizing its debt as a share of GDP, due, for example, to greater deflationary pressures than we currently expect. We could also lower the ratings if we believe private creditors will be asked to participate in a third rescheduling, either because of a change in government policy or because of comparability of treatment between official (bilateral and multilateral) and private lenders.

KEY STATISTICS

Table 1

Hellenic Republic of Greece - Selected Indicators
20072008200920102011201220132014201520162017
Nominal GDP (US$ bil)305342322295290248242244240247255
GDP per capita (US$)27,59930,82029,04226,50826,10722,33021,72621,89221,57022,17822,893
Real GDP growth (%)3.5(0.2)(3.1)(4.9)(7.1)(7.0)(3.9)(0.2)1.92.32.7
Real GDP per capita growth (%)3.4(0.4)(3.3)(5.0)(7.2)(7.0)(3.9)(0.2)1.92.32.7
Change in general government debt/GDP (%)6.810.315.813.412.3(26.5)8.10.00.50.70.5
General government balance/GDP (%)(6.8)(9.9)(15.6)(11.0)(9.6)(8.9)(12.7)(2.0)(1.5)(1.2)(1.0)
General government debt/GDP (%)107.2112.9129.7148.3170.3157.2175.1176.7173.2169.1164.4
Net general government debt/GDP (%)105.2110.6128.0143.3166.0150.5167.8169.3166.0162.2157.6
General government interest expenditure/revenues (%)11.812.613.514.717.011.38.79.08.27.97.3
Oth dc claims on resident non-govt. sector/GDP (%)93.897.394.1118.5121.7120.8122.6119.4115.0112.9110.5
CPI growth (%)3.04.21.34.73.11.0(0.9)(0.6)0.30.50.8
Gross external financing needs/CARs +use. res (%)323.9360.7494.5542.8514.1440.1389.9332.5313.6306.8290.0
Current account balance/GDP (%)(14.6)(14.9)(11.2)(10.1)(9.9)(2.4)0.80.70.80.11.5
Current account balance/CARs (%)(54.4)(52.5)(49.7)(41.5)(36.5)(7.9)2.32.12.20.24.1
Narrow net external debt/CARs (%)366.5313.4462.7486.0396.9513.5480.9452.5420.0387.5356.3
Net external liabilities/CARs (%)384.8256.7396.3406.4289.2370.1360.2344.0324.2306.0284.7
Other depository corporations (dc) are financial corporations (other than the central bank) whose liabilities are included in the national definition of broad money. Gross external financing needs are defined as current account payments plus short-term external debt at the end of the prior year plus nonresident deposits at the end of the prior year plus long-term external debt maturing within the year. Narrow net external debt is defined as the stock of foreign and local currency public- and private- sector borrowings from nonresidents minus official reserves minus public-sector liquid assets held by nonresidents minus financial sector loans to, deposits with, or investments in nonresident entities. A negative number indicates net external lending. CARs--Current account receipts.
The data and ratios above result from S&P’s own calculations, drawing on national as well as international sources, reflecting S&P’s independent view on the timeliness, coverage, accuracy, credibility, and usability of available information.
RATINGS SCORE SNAPSHOT

Table 2

Hellenic Republic of Greece - Ratings Score Snapshot
Key Rating Factors
Institutional and Governance EffectivenessWeakness
Economic Structure and GrowthNeutral
External Liquidity and International Investment PositionWeakness
Fiscal Flexibility and PerformanceNeutral
Debt BurdenWeakness
Monetary FlexibilityNeutral
Standard & Poor's analysis of sovereign creditworthiness rests on its assessment and scoring of five key rating factors: (i) institutional and governance effectiveness; (ii) economic structure and growth prospects; (iii) external liquidity and international investment position; (iv) the average of government debt burden and fiscal flexibility and fiscal performance; and (v) monetary flexibility. Each of the factors is assessed on a continuum spanning from 1 (strongest) to 6 (weakest). Section V.B of Standard & Poor's "Sovereign Government Rating Methodology And Assumptions," published on June 24, 2013, summarizes how the various factors are combined to derive the sovereign foreign currency rating, while section V.C details how the scores are derived. The ratings score snapshot summarizes whether we consider that the individual rating factors listed in our methodology constitute a strength or a weakness to the sovereign credit profile, or whether we consider them to be neutral. The concepts of "strength", "neutral", or "weakness" are absolute, rather than in relation to sovereigns in a given rating category. Therefore, highly rated sovereigns will typically display more strengths, and lower rated sovereigns more weaknesses. In accordance with Standard & Poor's sovereign ratings methodology, a change in assessment of the aforementioned factors does not in all cases lead to a change in the rating, nor is a change in the rating necessarily predicated on changes in one or more of the assessments.


UPDATE: S&P Upgrades Greece from 'B-' to 'B'; Risks to Fiscal Consolidation Have Faded Sep 12, 2014 11:47AM

(Updated - September 12, 2014 11:47 AM EDT)

On Sept. 12, 2014, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services raised its long-term foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings on the Hellenic Republic (Greece) to 'B' from 'B-'. At the same time, we affirmed the short-term sovereign credit ratings at 'B'. The outlook is stable.


RATIONALE

The upgrade reflects our view that risks to fiscal consolidation in Greece have abated. We forecast that, from next year, the Greek economy will emerge from seven consecutive years of negative growth. We expect recovering real and nominal GDP will enable Greece to operate average primary surpluses of 2% of GDP during 2014-2017. This is less than the 4.5% of GDP target the government envisioned in its program with the European Union (EU), the European Central Bank (ECB), and the IMF (together, the "Troika"), but we believe the lower estimate is politically more feasible than the government's target and consistent with a modest decline in government debt as a share of GDP.

We expect the government to absorb an increased share of EU funds, further widen its tax base, and improve tax collection. On the other hand, we believe the government has little room for further maneuver on the expenditure side. We believe it will carry out modest tax cuts, and we acknowledge downside risks to our forecast should deflationary pressure in the economy become entrenched.

We also view as low the likelihood of additional step-rises in government debt due to bank recapitalizations: the four largest domestic banks have raised €8.4 billion of capital directly from the markets and the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund has a balance of €11 billion for any capital calls from the public sector. Although the government may receive additional debt relief from official creditors, we do not anticipate it will approach private sector creditors for a third rescheduling. We also assume the government will continue to service the approximately €3 billion of debt held by creditors who did not participate in the two debt exchanges of 2012.

In our view, the Greek government's gross borrowing requirements of about €43 billion (19% of GDP) over the next 15 months will be partly met by Greek banks repaying "pillar-one" bonds back to the government, as well as intergovernment lending within the broader public sector and, more marginally, through privatization. We also expect about €20 billion to be raised in domestic local-law markets, about €12 billion from official lenders, and up to €5 billion from additional foreign bond placements.

As a result, we expect the gross government debt stock to broadly stabilize in nominal terms, declining slightly to 164% of GDP in 2017 from a peak of 177% in 2014. We note, however, that even at this somewhat lower level, Greece's general government debt stock will remain among the highest of all the sovereigns we rate.

That said, since the April and May 2012 public debt restructurings, other aspects of Greece's debt profile have improved. At 15.8 years currently, the average maturity of the Greek government's debt stock has more than doubled (it was 6.3 years in 2011). Of Greek central government debt, 72% is now noncommercial, with interest rates consistently below-market. Furthermore--and partly reflecting the European Financial Stability Facility allowing the Greek government to defer second-program interest payments for the first 10 years--the average interest rate paid on the noncommercial stock of debt is less than 2.0%, compared to our average nominal GDP projection of 2.8% for 2015-2017. Moreover, about 40% of Greece's commercial debt is held by the ECB and the central banks of the Eurosystem. (We classify bonds held by the Eurosystem as commercial debt since we view these holdings as monetary and not fiscal operations.)

We view Greece's economic recovery as gradual but weak, with 2017 real GDP still 20% lower than in 2007. A 16% decrease in unit labor costs between 2008 and 2013 has helped Greece's tourism sector. Its small manufacturing sector, however, has not benefited to the same extent (unlike in Spain, Portugal, or Ireland). Investment, still 40% below the 2007 rate, should pick up but only slowly. We believe investment levels will be constrained by a lack of confidence, an ineffective monetary transmission mechanism, and limited foreign direct investment. Household consumption will only gradually benefit from eventual job market stabilization.

We expect the current account to remain broadly balanced in 2014-2017 against a deficit of 11% of GDP in 2009. Although the services sector has been buoyant, most of the adjustment has taken place through a decrease in imports. Greece's capital and financial accounts have adjusted through strong EU fund inflows, debt forgiveness, and fresh market funding.

Despite this positive shift in external flow dynamics, Greece's external vulnerabilities persist: it has high external debt and limited monetary flexibility. We estimate external debt at about 450% of current account receipts in 2014 (net of public and financial sector external assets). In particular, about half of Greece's gross external debt stock is short term, mostly contracted by Greek banks, and therefore has to be rolled over. We anticipate that cross-border interbank deposits will stabilize, while ECB funding--about 20% of total banking system liabilities--will remain in place.

While we expect the Greek government will broadly adhere to the current policy framework, we view Greece's complicated political and policy environment as a ratings weakness. Even though reforms have so far supported fiscal performance and progress in restructuring of the economy, social tensions and a weak institutional framework remain.


OUTLOOK
The outlook is stable, balancing our view of Greece's progress in fiscal consolidation against the still-weak economic recovery and political resolve to continue with structural and institutional reforms. The outlook also assumes no further distressed exchanges on Greece's remaining stock of commercial debt.

We could raise our long-term ratings on Greece if GDP growth were to increase more than we currently expect, or if the institutional framework were to strengthen significantly. This could result in structural reforms to the labor and product markets bearing fruit more rapidly than we foresee, or the banking system rehabilitating to the extent that it can provide more dynamic credit growth.

We could lower the ratings if the government does not succeed in stabilizing its debt as a share of GDP, due, for example, to greater deflationary pressures than we currently expect. We could also lower the ratings if we believe private creditors will be asked to participate in a third rescheduling, either because of a change in government policy or because of comparability of treatment between official (bilateral and multilateral) and private lenders.

KEY STATISTICS

Table 1

Hellenic Republic of Greece - Selected Indicators
20072008200920102011201220132014201520162017
Nominal GDP (US$ bil)305342322295290248242244240247255
GDP per capita (US$)27,59930,82029,04226,50826,10722,33021,72621,89221,57022,17822,893
Real GDP growth (%)3.5(0.2)(3.1)(4.9)(7.1)(7.0)(3.9)(0.2)1.92.32.7
Real GDP per capita growth (%)3.4(0.4)(3.3)(5.0)(7.2)(7.0)(3.9)(0.2)1.92.32.7
Change in general government debt/GDP (%)6.810.315.813.412.3(26.5)8.10.00.50.70.5
General government balance/GDP (%)(6.8)(9.9)(15.6)(11.0)(9.6)(8.9)(12.7)(2.0)(1.5)(1.2)(1.0)
General government debt/GDP (%)107.2112.9129.7148.3170.3157.2175.1176.7173.2169.1164.4
Net general government debt/GDP (%)105.2110.6128.0143.3166.0150.5167.8169.3166.0162.2157.6
General government interest expenditure/revenues (%)11.812.613.514.717.011.38.79.08.27.97.3
Oth dc claims on resident non-govt. sector/GDP (%)93.897.394.1118.5121.7120.8122.6119.4115.0112.9110.5
CPI growth (%)3.04.21.34.73.11.0(0.9)(0.6)0.30.50.8
Gross external financing needs/CARs +use. res (%)323.9360.7494.5542.8514.1440.1389.9332.5313.6306.8290.0
Current account balance/GDP (%)(14.6)(14.9)(11.2)(10.1)(9.9)(2.4)0.80.70.80.11.5
Current account balance/CARs (%)(54.4)(52.5)(49.7)(41.5)(36.5)(7.9)2.32.12.20.24.1
Narrow net external debt/CARs (%)366.5313.4462.7486.0396.9513.5480.9452.5420.0387.5356.3
Net external liabilities/CARs (%)384.8256.7396.3406.4289.2370.1360.2344.0324.2306.0284.7
Other depository corporations (dc) are financial corporations (other than the central bank) whose liabilities are included in the national definition of broad money. Gross external financing needs are defined as current account payments plus short-term external debt at the end of the prior year plus nonresident deposits at the end of the prior year plus long-term external debt maturing within the year. Narrow net external debt is defined as the stock of foreign and local currency public- and private- sector borrowings from nonresidents minus official reserves minus public-sector liquid assets held by nonresidents minus financial sector loans to, deposits with, or investments in nonresident entities. A negative number indicates net external lending. CARs--Current account receipts.
The data and ratios above result from S&P’s own calculations, drawing on national as well as international sources, reflecting S&P’s independent view on the timeliness, coverage, accuracy, credibility, and usability of available information.
RATINGS SCORE SNAPSHOT

Table 2

Hellenic Republic of Greece - Ratings Score Snapshot
Key Rating Factors
Institutional and Governance EffectivenessWeakness
Economic Structure and GrowthNeutral
External Liquidity and International Investment PositionWeakness
Fiscal Flexibility and PerformanceNeutral
Debt BurdenWeakness
Monetary FlexibilityNeutral
Standard & Poor's analysis of sovereign creditworthiness rests on its assessment and scoring of five key rating factors: (i) institutional and governance effectiveness; (ii) economic structure and growth prospects; (iii) external liquidity and international investment position; (iv) the average of government debt burden and fiscal flexibility and fiscal performance; and (v) monetary flexibility. Each of the factors is assessed on a continuum spanning from 1 (strongest) to 6 (weakest). Section V.B of Standard & Poor's "Sovereign Government Rating Methodology And Assumptions," published on June 24, 2013, summarizes how the various factors are combined to derive the sovereign foreign currency rating, while section V.C details how the scores are derived. The ratings score snapshot summarizes whether we consider that the individual rating factors listed in our methodology constitute a strength or a weakness to the sovereign credit profile, or whether we consider them to be neutral. The concepts of "strength", "neutral", or "weakness" are absolute, rather than in relation to sovereigns in a given rating category. Therefore, highly rated sovereigns will typically display more strengths, and lower rated sovereigns more weaknesses. In accordance with Standard & Poor's sovereign ratings methodology, a change in assessment of the aforementioned factors does not in all cases lead to a change in the rating, nor is a change in the rating necessarily predicated on changes in one or more of the assessments.


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Jul 1, 2014 09:03AM 1-800-FLOWERS.Com (FLWS) Begins Accepting Bitcoin
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