Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cyprus – A country “ruled” by benighted labor union leaders?

The epitome and the writing of the final chapter of the calamity of the economy of Cyprus commenced on 14 December with the approval by parliament of insufficient austerity measures that only scratch the surface and continued on 15 December with the Pancyprian strike of the civil servants ordered by PASYDY (the civil servants labor union)! What preceded 14 December was the lack of vision and inability of the Government and political leadership of the Island to tangibly explain to the Cypriots and make them realize the obvious: that if Cyprus does not change it will suffer!

The austerity measures to be adopted by the Government will buy Cyprus a few months, maybe a year, but will not solve the systemic problems of the Cyprus economy that contributed to the crisis. On the contrary, the approved €855 million fiscal consolidation package (over three years) will force the economy to slow down even further to complete stagnation, as private consumption growth, the main driver of the expansion in the past, will evaporate completely and will compel households to zero credit growth. Over and above the leveraged balance sheets and the rising unemployment (8.2% and 24% with ages under 25 as at end-October 2011), incorporated and absent components in the Package demote growth and productivity and discourage FDIs.

Cyprus cannot be productive or competitive when the COLA defeats each and every purpose for competing; Cyprus cannot seek for excellence when entrepreneurship and innovation is “massacred” by a system that is not based on merit and performance but instead promotes mediocrity and injustice. Freezing the COLA for a period of time is only an interim measure; the COLA must be abolished immediately! Simply, apply a fair formula to incorporate the COLA into the salaries of the public servants and base future increments on performance.

The fiscal pressures generated by the public pension system and the disproportionate to the more productive private sector public wages are disastrous – as population aging and rising dependency ratios feed through to large increases in pension outlays and overbearing and unfoundedly increased public salaries exacerbate public finances.

Note that Cyprus has the largest public sector payroll in the Eurozone as a proportion of output (15.4% of GDP at end-2010) which along with social benefits they consume an immense 45% of total generated government spending! Even after the recent reforms the pension plan remains one of the most generous by international standards. The public pension system has to undergo restructuring, i.e. revise contribution rate and retirement age, base benefits on career average not on final salary, index pensions to the CPI, etc.

Also public sector employees receive an estimated 30% higher salaries than those in the private sector! Automatic salary increment must stop, public sector wages must be contained and the size of public employment must be reduced.

In view of these undisputable facts one can only wonder why the labor unions hold such stance and one can only deduct that their behavior is ignorant, irresponsible and anachronistic. What else can it be? Could it be that they put their own interests before the wellbeing of all their members? Could it be that they desperately try to find a reason for their existence? Because, if they are, their actions are equal to the most despicable crime!

The labor unions must realize that unless they support the fiscal consolidation process unreservedly, unless the cancer is scraped to the bone and not just the surface, in a very short period of time their role will be diminished to obscurity. When their members (if drastic measures are not undertaken) in the very near future are laid off, one after the other, they, their members, will realize only too late that the labor unions were more than ignorant…

NOTICE that the day Cyprus is forced to join the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (EFSM), that very same day Cyprus will stop being an international business and financial center, Cyprus will not be allowed to have a privileged 10% corporate tax; even worse, Cyprus will not be deciding for its own future alone.

Bold corrective actions can set the stage for resumption of economic growth only if a spirit of collectiveness and pride is adopted. Will the labor unions give the example or not?

For more visit: www.pytheas.net

Sources (Alphabetically)

      Cyprus Mail – Unions dig their heels in on pay freeze
      Cyprus Mail – Unions not disposed to austerity measures
      Cyprus Weekly – Austerity pain
      Europa – Cyprus: Subdued growth prospects while fiscal challenges persist
      Financial Mirror – Cyprus unemployment rate increases in October
      Financial Mirror – Plain Stupid! Cyprus strikes ground flights, austerity voted
      Financial Mirror – IMF: Cyprus has largest public sector wage bill in euro zone
      Financial Mirror – Cyprus unemployment rate increases in October
      IMF – Cyprus: 2011 Article IV consultation. Staff report; supplement; Public information notice on the Executive Board discussion; and statement by the Executive Director for Cyprus
      IMF – Cyprus: Selected issues paper
      IMF – IMF Executive Board concludes 2011 Article IV consultation with Cyprus






See also other related publications by Pytheas on Cyprus (Chronologically)

      Cyprus – Finally, energy security for the EU in the pipeline? (November 2011)
      Turkey unveiled and the dawn of a new energy opportunity for the EU (October 2011)
      Cyprus – Why the C.O.L.A. must be abolished immediately! (March 2011)
      Cyprus must change or suffer! (February 2011)
      Investing in Cyprus, an EU bridge to the world of business (February 2011)
      Cyprus – The economy calls for immediate action! (December 2010)
      Cyprus – Real estate and construction industries optimistic despite the slowdown (October 2010)
      The Cyprus real property market contracted… (October 2009)


Disclaimer
The above notes have been compiled to assist you; however, actions taken as a result of this document are at the discretion of the reader and not PYTHEAS or Harris A. Samaras.

All rights reserved. The material in this publication may not be copied, stored or transmitted without the prior permission of the publishers. Short extracts may be quoted, provided the source is fully acknowledged.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Cyprus – A country in denial and a scandalous political leadership

One would think that Cyprus had everything going for itself: A smaller, manageable country, classified among the high income countries and with a standard of living that is higher than most other EU member states… an economy that was characterized (only a couple of years ago) by robustness and macroeconomic stability with full employment conditions and internal stability… a strategically located thriving business and financial hub with the lowest corporate tax in the EU and about 50 double tax treaties… an established gateway to the world of international trade with tested legislation and more than adequate infrastructure of all sorts… a tourist destination that used to be ranked amongst the top 5 in Europe with annual tourist arrivals counting more than double of its population… a country that claims the largest natural gas reserves ever discovered in the European continent with a potential to becoming a guaranteed primary natural gas source and transit route to the EU… an envied economy that only a few years back was a textbook case of success of a water-locked country…

But now, despite, three-year-long market warnings, repetitive specific warnings by, the credit rating agencies, the European Central Bank and the Central Bank of Cyprus, international cash centers and international financial institutions, the Country and its political leadership remains in denial.

Cyprus reached to such a low point, that it can no longer access the international capital markets, and is confronted by the challenge of accessing financing to meet its fiscal needs in 2012 not to mention beyond! Ignorant voices suggested that the State could provide sovereign guarantees to the banks to keep things going… It is to wonder how this could be possible when the State has no credibility whatsoever, actually a worse in the international capital markets credibility than the banks themselves! It is now almost impossible for Cyprus not to be obliged to join the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (EFSM)!

How is it possible for Cyprus to have come to this point? Is Cyprus, “deaf”, “blind” or both?

Are the Cypriots so polarized that they can only play the role of an ignorant bystander in an act that jeopardizes not only their own lives but also that of their children? Because if they are, they deserve the misery that they are about to experience!

Are, the Government, the political parties and the trade unions so unpatriotic that they put their own interests before the wellbeing of all their citizens? Because if they are, their actions are equal to the most despicable crime!

Are, the Government, the political parties and the trade unions so ignorant and incapable of handling a crisis? Because if they are, they are not suitable to neither run the island nor hold catalytic to the prosperity of the Country positions!

Indecisive, Gutless, Bigoted, Populist and Ignorant: Five adjectives that describe perfectly the behavior of the Government on the handling of the Crisis. Highlighting, the behavior of most of the political parties cannot be characterized much differently.

Even after half a dozen notches of downgrading, rapidly increasing unemployment and total economic slowdown, the Government and the politicians are exhibiting with every opportunity the extent of their vanity. The Government, as if living in another planet, still preaches that everything is under control. The representatives of the ruling communist party blame capitalism; the representatives of the main opposition conservative party comment sarcastically whenever the word communism is uttered; some blame the credit rating agencies and others quote words out of context of Mrs. Merkel, Mr. Sarkozy or Mr. Rhen, trying to convince the public and probably themselves, that all is cool or that their point of view is the only point of view. There are even some who dare to claim that Cyprus is doing better than most: their “scientific deduction” is based on the comparison that Cyprus is doing better than the worst of the Eurozone countries!?!?! All without any exemption do not miss the opportunity to blame the other side, the way only immature teenagers do: “I told you so!”; “We said it first!”; “It was our idea!”… But no one, no member of the Government or no politician to date had the guts to take any responsibility for the miserable condition of the economy! If this is not scandalous, what is?

Anachronistic and Ignorant are two adjectives enough to describe the behavior of the Trade Unions on the Crisis. How else can they be characterized when they should be aware that if the C.O.L.A. is not abolished, if the pension plan is not reformed, and if the public finances are not streamlined and sorted out, the Cypriots of today and the generations to follow will not just lose a salary increment or two but their livelihoods?! How is it possible that the Trade Unions cannot realize that Cyprus cannot be productive or competitive when the COLA defeats each and every purpose for competing?! How is it possible that the Trade Unions do not realize that Cyprus cannot seek for excellence when entrepreneurship and innovation is “massacred” by a system that is not based on merit and performance but instead promotes mediocrity and injustice?! How can some of the Trade Unions possibly claim that the EU and credit rating agencies’ warnings are unfounded?! How can they dare to play with peoples’ lives in such manner?!

Cypriots, two days ago, were pleasantly surprised to see the leader of the main opposition political party meeting with the President of the Republic, in an effort to find a solution to the Cyprus Financial Crisis. Although it is progress, the outcome of the discussion was as half-baked as all the decisions that have been taken so far in regard to the crisis. The announced measures, when they will be enforced (the 15 December deadline will come and the politicians will be still discussing the obvious), will buy Cyprus a few months, maybe a year, if of course no other external or internal factors by then, negatively impact the economy further.

What needs to be done!

*           The Government has to come out of its permanently-worn-election-campaign-shell, face its people, acknowledge that it underestimated the resilience of the Cyprus economy and with clarity admit that the Cyprus economy is in a mess. Moreover, the Government has to tangibly explain to its people that unless real sacrifices are made, the price that the Cypriots will pay tomorrow will be incomparably higher than what they are called to pay today.

*            The Government has to acknowledge that fundamental changes must be undertaken (and it has to evidently chart the way) in order for the Country to enjoy long-term financial stability, such are, the abolishment of the C.O.L.A., the reform of the pension plan and the streamlining of the public finances – providing measures that only scratch the surface will only prolong the problem and the credibility of the Country will be further tarnished… If Cyprus is to prosper, it has to strive for excellence, it has to become competitive, and it has to accumulate capital. The C.O.L.A., the growing cash deficits of the pension plan and the insurmountable public finances will never allow the Country to follow the path of prosperity.

*            The Government has to ensure that the measures to be taken will not promote further stagnation but instead encourage local and foreign direct investments. For instance, tax evasion (which must be dealt with systematically and promptly) should not become a “psychosis” by establishing complex legislation and inspection – if procedures do not remain as simple as possible they will scare off investment and eliminate the entrepreneurial spirit that resurrected this country after the Turkish invasion of 1974.

*            All political parties have to support and promote the Government’s efforts. A strong message has to be sent to the international capital markets that Cypriots united are behind the efforts of their leadership and that Cyprus as an international financial center is the natural choice for the serious investor – the much needed spirit of collectiveness can be cultivated only if the leadership of the country embraces it first and sets the example.

*            The trade unions must realize that unless they support the fiscal consolidation process unreservedly, in a very short period of time their role will be diminished to obscurity. When their members (if drastic measures are not undertaken) in the very near future are laid off, one after the other, they, their members, will realize only too late that the Trade Unions were at the least ignorant…

Moreover, epigrammatically, the banking, tourism and real estate industries have to be reinforced in each and every possible way. Incentives, especially for foreign investors but also for private local ones have to multiply. Procedures and other administrative inefficiencies within the governmental machine at every level have to be rationalized and become more responsive. Technological innovation and sophistication, research and development have to be reinforced. Double tax treaties with more countries are a priority and should be dealt as such. Building coefficients in selected areas have to increase. Hospitality and tourism have to be upgraded. International hotel chains should be targeted and “invited”. Architectural monstrosity should be eliminated. Architectural uniformity in all areas has to become a way of life. Tradition and heritage have to be protected and better projected. Critical thinking, creativity and ingenious vision have to be cultivated…

In a nutshell, the main policy priorities should be to stabilize public debt at a more prudent level and boost competitiveness, while safeguarding the stability of the financial sector. Over and above the bold reforms and the sacrifices, a spirit of collectiveness, pride and transparency must be encouraged and adopted. Cyprus is given at this final hour the opportunity and probably a last chance to eliminate “cancerous” practices that have accumulated over the years…

Does Cyprus possess the common sense and resilience to map its own destiny?

See also: www.pytheas.net

Sources (Alphabetically)

      CBS News – Moody’s downgrades Cyprus’ top 3 banks
      Cyprus Mail – Unions dig their heels in on pay freeze
      Cyprus Mail – Unions not disposed to austerity measures
      Cyprus Weekly – Austerity pain
      Cyprus Weekly – Foreign deposits under pressure
      Europa – Cyprus: Subdued growth prospects while fiscal challenges persist
      Financial Mirror – IMF: Cyprus has largest public sector wage bill in euro zone
      Financial Mirror – Cyprus unemployment rate increases in October
      IMF – Cyprus: 2011 Article IV consultation. Staff report; supplement; Public information notice on the Executive Board discussion; and statement by the Executive Director for Cyprus
      IMF – Cyprus: Selected issues paper
      IMF – IMF Executive Board concludes 2011 Article IV consultation with Cyprus
      Moody’s Investors Service – Moody’s downgrades three Cypriot banks following Cyprus downgrade; banks on review for further downgrade
      Reuters – S&P cuts Cyprus long-term credit rating to BBB
      The Financial Times – Moody’s downgrades Cyprus’s debt rating




See also other related publications by Pytheas on Cyprus (Chronologically)

      Turkey unveiled and the dawn of a new energy opportunity for the EU (October 2011)
      Cyprus – Why the C.O.L.A. must be abolished immediately! (March 2011)
      Cyprus must change or suffer! (February 2011)
      Investing in Cyprus, an EU bridge to the world of business (February 2011)
      Cyprus – The economy calls for immediate action! (December 2010)
      Cyprus – Real estate and construction industries optimistic despite the slowdown (October 2010)
      The Cyprus real property market contracted… (October 2009)

See the full article at: Cyprus – A country in denial and a scandalous political leadership (December 2011)

Disclaimer
The above notes have been compiled to assist you; however, actions taken as a result of this document are at the discretion of the reader and not PYTHEAS or Harris A. Samaras.
All rights reserved. The material in this publication may not be copied, stored or transmitted without the prior permission of the publishers. Short extracts may be quoted, provided the source is fully acknowledged.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cyprus – Finally, energy security for the EU in the pipeline?

Natural Gas consumption is projected to double worldwide by 2030 due to expected growth in energy demand. Many European countries rely on a limited number of energy supply sources and such reliance creates serious issues of security of supply. The vulnerability of the EU to energy supply risks is a fact but this can be no more. If the most conservative data is taken into account in regard to the natural gas reserves discovered in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Cyprus (and the Levantin Basin), for the first time ever in European energy history, the EU is guaranteed an uninterrupted supply of a traditional energy source.

Estimates of reserves in the two primary fields in the Levantin Basin are believed to be in the region of 24.5 trillion cubic feet (Leviathan 16tcf and Tamar 8.5tcf; seismic evidence of the Cypriot block Aphrodite (parcel 12) currently being drilled by Houston’s Noble Energy, is estimated to be about 50% richer than Israel’s Leviathan field.

If the finding confirms the estimates, including those of Israel in the Leviathan region, will rank among the largest in the world in the last 10 years. The amount of gas estimated from these two parcels alone is equal to half of the known reserves of those the United States; a country with a population of 310 million, whereas the total population of the Cyprus, Israel and Lebanon claiming ownership rights to the two main parcels in the Levantin Basin is less than 13 million. It is important to note that the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the Levantine Basin holds an estimated 1.7 billion barrels of oil and a mean of 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas reserves – the worldwide proven reserves of conventional gas alone total 187.49 trillion m³ with a reserve production ratio of more than 60 years.

The Cyprus government, Noble Energy as well, seems to be oriented towards the construction of an onshore natural gas liquefaction plant, intended to process and export LNG instead of a pipeline. According to Noble Energy, the LNG plant is more flexible in terms of selling natural gas to the highest price bidder than being stuck to a single or few buyers at the end of the pipeline.

Complex challenges lie ahead: Is the installation of the pipeline from Cyprus to mainland Europe feasible, or the water depth and the underwater terrain forbid such a task? If a pipeline is a no go, does this mean that the transportation of gas will have to employ conversion into liquid natural gas (LNG) and, in early time, perhaps compressed natural gas (CNG) transportation? Does Cyprus pipes the gas or stores it for export? Isn’t a liquefaction plant too expensive an option? Is Cyprus able to undertake such an expensive task, especially if the LNG route is followed? Will the countries in the Levant Basin, such are Israel and Lebanon, manage to put aside their differences and cooperate for the real benefit of their people or would this be the cause of more tension? Is a pipeline running from Cyprus gas fields to onto Turkey and then to the proposed Nabucco conveyor a wise decision? Is giving Russia gas concessions for Cyprus and the EU a wise decision?

The natural gas discovered in Cyprus is not just a Cyprus issue; it is an issue of primary importance for the whole of the European Union that should be tackled jointly by both Cyprus and the EU. For the first time ever the EU is given the opportunity to avoid dependence of energy supply on politically and economically volatile countries and regions such are Ukraine, Turkey, Eurasia and the Middle East!

Cyprus, Israel and the EU (with the lead coordination of the EU and Cyprus) but also Lebanon, Syria and Egypt should jointly work together to ensure that an appropriate framework and solid plan are in place in order to complete exploration drilling and commence exploitation as quickly as possible. The U.S. as well, world history has proven that stable EU means stable U.S. What is more, the EU and the U.S. must make Turkey understand that it has to conform to international law (See relevant article by the same author: Turkey unveiled and the dawn of a new energy opportunity for the EU).

What if a JV is structured with the EU? What if Cyprus and the EU set up a company together for the exploitation of the hydrocarbons in the Levantin Basin along with the participation of Israel, Lebanon, Egypt and Syria?

Such a venture will minimize both sovereign and financial risks for all parties involved. It will secure both the source and the transit route that should be no other but to avoid Turkey, with a pipeline to mainland Greece and then to the rest of Europe – this is the only way for an uninterrupted and guaranteed energy source supply for the EU.

The damaged pipeline between Syria and Iraq when reinstituted and the political environment allows, can become an additional source enhancer; Qatar and Saudi Arabia could also connect to the Syria-Iraq pipeline…

The Government of Cyprus may have to pause and consider this option! The EU has to look at the whole issue with a different eye. And presently, whether the next parcel will be allocated by a tendering process or directly is secondary, to the “nationality” of the company that will be granted the next parcel or to the contents of the agreement between Cyprus and the successful grantee.

Cyprus can become a guaranteed primary natural gas source and transit route to the EU, of the EU but also a hub of reconciliation and regional stability!


For more, visit: www.pytheas.net


Sources (Alphabetically)
      EKEM European Energy Policy Observatory – Iraq’s alternative routes for reaching the European gas markets
      Eurogas – The role of natural gas in a sustainable energy market
      International Gas Union – Changing market dynamics, challenges and opportunities
      King & Spalding – LNG in Europe, an overview of European import terminals
      Natural Gas Europe – How to move Cyprus’ (prospective) gaz bonanza
      The Wall Street Journal – Iraq, Iran, Syria sign $10 bn gas-pipeline deal
      U.S. Geological Survey – Assessment of undiscovered oil and gas resources of the Levantin Basin province, Eastern Mediterranean
      Wikipedia – Arab Gas Pipeline


See also other related publications by Pytheas:
      Turkey unveiled and the dawn of a new energy opportunity for the EU
      Investing in Cyprus, an EU bridge to the world of business

Disclaimer
The above notes have been compiled to assist you; however, actions taken as a result of this document are at the discretion of the reader and not PYTHEAS or Harris A. Samaras.
All rights reserved. The material in this publication may not be copied, stored or transmitted without the prior permission of the publishers. Short extracts may be quoted, provided the source is fully acknowledged.