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Venezuela – Economic Crisis Strikes Consumers and Companies

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Venezuela, a country considered as a role model economy for other Latin American countries a few decades ago, has now fallen into deep economic, social, and political crisis that seems to never end. Venezuela’s economy, highly dependent on oil exports, witnessed a steep decline when global oil prices dropped dramatically during 2014-2017, followed by the government ill-treating national funds, and a massive reduction in import of goods. Under this scenario, several multinational companies, such as PepsiCo, Palmolive, and Coca Cola, chose to reduce or temporarily cease production in the country, which has led to increased unemployment. As a result, many Venezuelans started to flee the country in search for a better life quality, while those who chose to stay face low salaries, hyperinflation, empty supermarket shelves, and increasing violence as political turmoil is deepening amid opposition and criticism of the current government of Nicolas Maduro.

The root of the problem

Venezuela’s deep social and economic crisis is driven mainly by mismanagement of national funds and lack of investment in industries of national importance. For several years, the Venezuela’s government-established projects involved providing social aid for households with low income, and these programs were supported by revenue generated through oil exports. Therefore, as gas and oil sector revenue accounts for 25% of the country’s GPD, a steep plunge in global oil prices from US$85 in 2014 to US$36 in 2016 deeply affected Venezuela’s social projects turning them unsustainable.

Venezuela’s deep social and economic crisis is driven mainly by mismanagement of national funds and lack of investment in industries of national importance.

In addition, Venezuela did not invest in its oil industry, one of the main pillars of the country’s economy. Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PVDSA) the Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company has witnessed limited investment, causing Venezuela’s crude oil production to decline from 2.7 million barrels per day in 2014 to two million in 2017, expected to further crumble to 1.4 million barrels per day in 2018. This also translated into a decrease in oil exports revenue by 64% during 2010-2015, deepening scarcity of funds and progressing economic instability in the country.

Venezuela - Economic Crisis Strikes Consumers and Companies

Plummeting imports in import-dependent economy

Venezuela has been highly dependent on imported goods and raw materials such as food staples and medicines, among other goods. After the fall in oil prices and decrease of crude oil production, Venezuela redirected a large percentage of the remaining revenue from oil export to repay foreign debt, drastically reducing import volume of goods. As a result, imports severely dropped from US$58.7 billion in 2012 to US$18 billion in 2016, leaving the country with shortage of wide range of goods, including pharmaceuticals, sugar, corn, wheat, etc.

Soaring inflation and unemployment

In addition, Venezuela established strict price control regulations as a way to counterbalance hyperinflation, which directly hindered production of goods by multinational companies. Consequently, several key market players reduced or partially stopped operations in the country as a way to avoid losing profits. In February 2018, Colgate Palmolive, a US-based consumer goods company, stopped production for a week after the government demanded that the company reduces the price of its products, which resulted in a large loss in profit for the company. Subsequently, the reduction of multinationals’ operations in Venezuela greatly increased the unemployment rate to 30% as of 2018, causing Venezuelans to opt for unreported employment or to flee the country looking for job opportunities. It is estimated that between one to two million Venezuelans will have migrated by the end of 2018.

EOS Perspective

Throughout 2017, the ministry of urban farming encouraged people to grow food, e.g. tomatoes and lettuce, at their homes and to start eating rabbits as a way to prevent starvation as a result of massive shortage of basic goods. Meanwhile, as a way to ease the situation, Venezuelan authorities sell a monthly bag containing corn flour, beans, rice, pasta, dried milk, and some canned foods at VE$25,000 – this is less than a dollar. These bags with food are distributed only among people registered in the communal councils and those who possess a Carnet de la Patria, a home registry system in order to receive the food. Additionally, president Maduro decided to open 3,000 popular meal centers as part of a nutritional recovery scheme seeking to feed hungry Venezuelans. However, none of these measures have clearly had enough impact to aid in the difficult situation amid the deepening crisis in Venezuela.

Migration to neighboring countries in Latin America has been the way many Venezuelans have found to escape the crisis. Argentina, Chile, and Colombia, among other Latin America countries, have received over 629,000 Venezuelans in 2017 alone, which is 544,000 more Venezuelans than in 2015. The mere number of fleeing people indicates the scale of the issue, yet the socialist administration of Nicolas Maduro refused to accept any help, aggravating the already strained political relationships with his Latin American counterparts. Further, Venezuela also refused to accept any aid from international institutions such as the WHO, which would help as a short-term solution or at least a relief for starving Venezuelans.

Moreover, Venezuela seems to be continuing to drown, as South American trade bloc Mercosur – one of the most important commercial blocs in the region, suspended Venezuela’s membership indefinitely in 2017. Such a measure translates into further reduction of imports into Venezuela from the bloc and, potentially, Venezuelans banned from legally migrating to any of the countries from the Mercosur bloc. So far, South American countries have welcomed waves of Venezuelans, but the dormant prohibition could negatively affect a considerable volume of the population seeking to flee from the crisis.

Venezuela seems to be continuing to drown, as Mercosur suspended Venezuela’s membership indefinitely in 2017. Such a measure translates into further reduction of imports by Venezuela from the bloc.

In addition, the USA issued an executive order banning any American financial institution from investing in Venezuela, that same year, which restricted the inflow of capital and increased the financial isolation of Venezuela from the North American markets.

This dramatic situation, both in Venezuela’s domestic as well as international arena, calls for president Maduro to reevaluate and encourage reforms that should empower small domestic producers, e.g. coffee makers, agricultural producers, among others, in order to reactivate internal consumption and counterbalance shortage of food and other supplies. Further, it is high time that the country’s leadership opens their borders to external help, however this seems unlikely to happen, considering that this would mean an acknowledgment that the socialist political management of the country has failed, and this in turn would play into Maduro’s opposition’s hands to easily overturn his government.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Infographic: Vietnam Tourism Sector Taking Off

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Tourists are flocking to Vietnam to admire its natural beauty and cultural heritage. With record-level tourist arrivals in 2017, Vietnam is rising among the fastest growing travel destinations in the world.

This sector growth can be attributed to several government initiatives, including strengthening of tourism regulations, financial stimulus, and technology integration. However, some of the pressing issues such as unavailability of qualified workers for hospitality industry, natural disasters, or polluted tourist attraction sites may affect the growth momentum.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Can Cryptocurrencies Dent the Trillion-Dollar Banking Industry?

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Cryptocurrencies (such as bitcoin, ethereum, and litecoin) have definitely been the talk of the town this year. With their prices rising beyond bounds, everyone is sharing their two cents on the future of this fairly new concept of digital currency. Among these, are also players of the established financial system, which up till now have largely ignored cryptocurrencies terming them as a short-lived phenomenon. However, this has changed as bitcoin prices continue to soar and banks and other financial institutions evaluate not only the merits of the new currency and the technology behind it, but also the perils of not acting swiftly enough to adapt to the changing financial market scenario.

Cryptocurrencies and blockchain – what are we talking about?

Owing to an unparalleled rise in its prices, cryptocurrencies, especially bitcoin, have garnered massive interest from the public at large, however, very few understand how they and the technology that underpins them actually work.

Cryptocurrency is a digital form of money that is secure and largely anonymous. It uses encryption techniques to regulate the creation of the currency units and verify the transactions, thereby eliminating the need of a third-party verification (that is conducted by banks in case of traditional currency). However, to better comprehend the concept of cryptocurrencies it is vital to understand the core technology that enables its existence – blockchain technology.

Blockchain is a global distributed ledger or database of transactions running on an expansive peer to peer network, where transactions are securely stored and confirmed without the need of a central certifying body. Each and every transaction ever made historically is noted transparently and any new transaction is accepted/verified on the basis of all previous transactions undertaken (i.e. to ensure that the person undertaking the transaction has the credit to carry out the transaction).

Blockchain is increasingly finding application across industries – we wrote about its entry into the healthcare sector in our publication Blockchain Technology – Next Frontier in Healthcare? in March 2017.

The next aspect is to understand how cryptocurrencies are created/transacted. A new unit of currency is created when a “cryptocurrency miner” solves a complex computational algorithm to confirm a transaction and add it to the blockchain. For their service (i.e. to confirm and conduct the transaction), the miner generates a certain amount of the cryptocurrency for himself, thereby creating additional units of the cryptocurrency. Having said that, cryptocurrencies are limited in number (for example, there can only be 21 million Bitcoins and 84 million litecoins).

Cryptocurrencies are stored in a digital wallet, using which the user can spend the currency as well as check his balance.

Leading companies increasingly accept cryptocurrencies

While the reach of cryptocurrencies still remains largely limited when compared with conventional money, their acceptability and transaction value have been steadily rising. Several leading companies now accept bitcoins (the leading cryptocurrency) as a form of payment. These include Subway, Microsoft, Reddit, Expedia.com, WordPress.com, Virgin Galactic, Tesla, etc.

McDonalds announced that it will start accepting bitcoins in 2018, while Argos (a retailer) as well as British Airways have also expressed their intent to start accepting bitcoins as a mean of payments by 2018. In addition, the daily total value of bitcoins being transacted has also seen a substantial rise from about US$200 million worth of bitcoins being transacted daily in January 2017 to US$2 billion by November 2017. However, the per-day volume of transactions has witnessed a comparatively moderate rise as they ranged around 200,000-300,000 transactions per day at the beginning of the year and increased to about 350,000-450,000 number of daily transactions by December 2017.

Central banks evaluate risks to the banking system

This momentous rise in their popularity and acceptability over the past years has made central banks across the world realize and evaluate the risk posed by this revolutionary technology.

Cryptocurrencies bite into banks’ space

The traditional money used across the globe gains its credibility by being backed by a centralized authority (mainly a central bank of a country). However, cryptocurrencies remove the need of a third-party guarantor and depend on un-hackable peer-to-peer (blockchain) technology to guarantee value (i.e. when a transaction is made using cryptocurrency, the miners validate the transaction and unlock a small amount of cryptocurrency from the network as a compensation for their service.) Thus, in simple terms, they make the job of banks (who act as a third-party in terms of all money transactions) redundant.

Therefore, when using cryptocurrencies, consumers save on commissions that they have been paying to banks for processing financial transactions. These include credit and debit card transaction fee, international money transfer fee, clearing and settlement fee, among several others. This not only saves customers money but also time.

Moreover, the use of cryptocurrencies makes financing easier as it opens another avenue for financing for people who have been turned down by banks or other traditional channels. In case better terms and rates are offered in this form of peer-to-peer financing, customers eligible for bank loans may also steer towards digital money for financing.


Explore our other Perspectives on blockchain


Decentralized nature of cryptocurrencies protects the client identity

Another advantage of cryptocurrencies over conventional currency is security and privacy. Blockchain technology is known to protect client information and identity better than banks. Since it is a peer-to-peer network that is distributed across a host of computers across the world, it is less susceptible to cyberattacks when compared with bank servers that are usually located at one place (thereby making attacks comparatively simpler). Thus, the decentralized nature of blockchain and in turn cryptocurrencies makes it more secure than traditional banking. The anonymous nature of the transactions also makes it attractive to a certain type of customers who value privacy.

These factors pose a significant risk to the traditional banking system, which must act swiftly if it does not wish to cede further ground to cryptocurrencies. In order to compete with digital money, banks need to improve services, especially by offering digital services at a lower fee, and offer similar real-time services that cryptocurrencies offer. Moreover, they must realize the end of their monopoly on financial transactions and get rid of standard manipulations such as charging hidden fees on several financial services, such as credit and debit cards.

Banks start to embrace the revolution

Banks can also seize certain opportunities presented by the growing popularity of cryptocurrencies. These include providing escrow services, helping customers exchange their money for bitcoins, etc. For instance, in May 2017, Norway’s largest online-only bank, Skandiabanken announced its plans to offer clients the ability to link bank accounts to their cryptocurrency holdings.

At the same time, several banks (both central and private) are also looking at creating their own digital currency and are showing keen interest in understanding and adapting blockchain technology for interbank transfers.

People’s Bank of China (China’s central bank) is developing its own digital currency in an effort to reduce transaction costs, expand the outreach of financial services to rural areas and increase the efficiency of its monetary policy. On similar lines, Russia’s Communications Minister has announced in October 2017 the country’s plans to create and launch state-controlled digital currency, which would use blockchain to decentralize control and improve trust but would be issued and tracked like conventional currency. The Dutch Central Bank has also created its own cryptocurrency for internal circulation only to get an understanding of its working. On the other hand, the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank have launched a joint research project on the adoption of blockchain technology.

The 2017 Global Blockchain Benchmarking Study, published in September, analyzed 200 central banks and stated that about 20% of central banks plan to deploy blockchain within the next two years, while about 40% plan to apply it within the decade. Moreover, about 80% claim to be researching blockchain technology with the aim of issuing their own cryptocurrencies.

On the private side, in July 2017, the Digital Trade Chain Consortium, which consists of seven European banks, namely Deutsche Bank, HSBC, KBC, Natixis, Rabobank, Societe Generale, and Unicredit awarded a contract to IBM to build a digital trade platform that will run on IBM’s cloud.

In another deal, IBM is working along with Japan’s, Aeon Financial Service, to develop a blockchain-based financial platform to provide settlement and transactions for both corporate as well as retail financial services, which will include virtual currency payments between individuals and businesses, loyalty points allocation and redemption, and transaction data management.

In September 2017, six major banking corporations (Barclays, Credit Suisse, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, HSBC, MUFG, and State Street) announced that they are partnering up to create a cryptocurrency of their own. The digital coin that is being called “utility settlement coin” would be used for clearing and settling transactions for these banks globally over a blockchain. Currently, the banks are in talks with central bank regulators regarding the same and are expected to launch their commercial-grade blockchain by 2018.

While banks may be wary of the credibility of the currently regulated cryptocurrencies, most of them agree on and see blockchain technology as the difference-maker and are open to adopting blockchain to upgrade their services, such as improving payment systems. As per experts, blockchain technology can save the financial industry US$20 billion per year by 2020.

Cryptocurrencies’ drawbacks go beyond threats just to the banking system

However, not everything about cryptocurrencies works well, as the current set of cryptocurrencies being traded also has some shortcomings when compared with the traditional financial system.

While the anonymity of transactions may be seen as a positive to a certain group of users, it does pose a threat to the society in general. The anonymity makes cryptocurrencies a convenient choice for illegal activities, such as money laundering. Moreover, it also provides a window to terrorist financing as money can switch hands without being traced.

Cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, also have a drawback of being limited in number (the number of bitcoin is limited to 21 million). This limitation makes cryptocurrencies somewhat similar to the gold standard currency, wherein a country’s currency has a value directly linked to gold. This monetary approach has been deserted by most economists as this money supply policy that does not factor in the fact that changes in demand generate large fluctuations in prices (as being witnessed in bitcoins presently) and these fluctuations are not practical in the day-to-day workings of the society, especially wage payments. Therefore, while demand for bitcoin may be increasing, it cannot largely replace traditional currency due to such intrinsic characteristics.

Moreover, the current increase in bitcoin demand is speculated to be a bubble by several analysts who claim that the exponential rise in prices has more to do with an ongoing investment frenzy to make quick profits and exit, rather than actual established increase in usage.

cryptocurrencies

EOS Perspective

Whether it is a long-term replacement to traditional currency or not, cryptocurrencies cannot be ignored. The unimaginable rise in the prices of bitcoin (from close to US$1,000 in January 2017 to about US$17,000 in December 2017) has compelled banks to pay close attention to this upcoming competitor. While cryptocurrencies do offer several benefits (such as elimination of third-party, easier financing, and greater security) that are enticing consumers to move beyond traditional currencies and banking, they are no position to uproot the gigantic money market. However, that does not mean that banks can just ignore them.

While cryptocurrencies do offer several benefits, they are in no position to uproot the gigantic money market. However, that does not mean that banks can just ignore them

Banks must work towards innovating digital services and making them cheaper and faster. Cryptocurrencies also open doors for banks to launch few supplementary services, such as providing escrow services and syncing their bank accounts with their cryptocurrency digital wallets. While these may be short term goals, banks are most interested in testing and adopting blockchain technology especially for clearing and settling of inter-bank transactions.

While cryptocurrencies are unlikely to uproot the banking system any time soon, we believe it should be considered that blockchain has the capability to impact the financial sector the same way Internet impacted many industries back in the 1990’s.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

UK Airlines Expected to Face Turbulent Times with Brexit on the Horizon

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As the UK heads towards a hard Brexit, one of the industries that could be facing the maximum heat is the airline sector. The country’s aviation sector has for long enjoyed the perks of UK being an EU member, as its business greatly benefits from two of the EU’s four fundamentals of freedom of movement – freedom of movement of people and of cargo/goods (with the other two being freedom of movement of capital and of services). However, with UK triggering Article 50 (divorce clause) of the EU treaty, the European Commission has warned British airlines about several restrictions that are likely to be imposed on their EU routes in case the UK and EU fail to reach a new agreement. This has left the airline sector in a state of high uncertainty. While several airlines, such as EasyJet, have already started working on a contingency plan, others chose to follow a wait-and-watch approach.

Airlines industry has definitely been one of the key beneficiaries of the UK being an EU member. As per the EU’s Open Skies Agreement, all EU members are allowed to fly anywhere across the EU states. This rule gave the British airlines access to fly not only from London to Paris but also from Milan to Paris, expanding the airlines’ passenger base.

However, with Brexit being an absolute certainty, UK airlines fear losing access to the EU’s single aviation market which they have for long promoted and championed. Since the EU-UK divorce seems to be a rough one, airlines have little hope for a continued Open Skies Agreement. The sector’s worries have been further deepened by the fact that British PM, Theresa May, has clearly expressed her inclination to end the authority of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over the UK matters. Since ECJ (which is the highest court in the EU in matters of European Union law) also presides over European Aviation Law and in turn the Open Skies Agreement, the end of its authority over the UK will automatically result in the removal of UK’s aviation sector from the Open Skies Agreement.

Moreover, within days of the UK triggering Article 50 of the EU treaty (i.e. formalizing the exit process that needs to be completed over two years), the European Commission has sent out warnings to British airlines about several compliances they must adhere to, to continue flying intra-EU post Brexit. In order for these airlines to continue flying on these routes, they must comply with EU’s strict ownership rules, which state that airlines operating intra-EU flights must be based in an EU state and their majority stake must be owned by EU citizens. Failing to abide by these regulations will result in the UK losing its rights to fly intra-EU flights. Alternatively, as a counter to EU’s regulations on UK airlines, it is well expected that the UK will put similar stipulations on EU-based airlines that wish to fly intra-UK flights.

These two-sided restrictions will affect several airlines such as British EasyJet, Irish Ryanair, and IAG-owned airlines – Irish Aer Lingus as well as Spanish Iberia and Vueling, which derive a great deal of their business from flying within the EU countries and UK cities. While some of these airlines have preemptively started deploying a contingency plan, others are still waiting for some more clarity and are hoping for a positive outcome in the form of an agreement similar to Open Skies.

UK Airlines Expected to Face Turbulent Times

EasyJet

One of the first movers with regards to an action plan has been EasyJet. Being a UK-based company deriving a large part of its revenue from low-cost intra-EU flights, EasyJet will be one of the airlines hit the worst. Since losing its intra-EU business is not an option for the carrier, it has already set up a European sister company in Vienna, EasyJet Europe, in July 2017. About 100 planes have been assigned to the subsidiary and the total cost of the project is about US$13 million.

EasyJet does not face a major hurdle with regards to ownership requirements for EU airlines. It is currently 84% owned by EU citizens, a stake that will fall to 49% post Brexit provided that the shares of its owner, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, who is a dual UK and EU citizen, are accounted as EU citizen-owned. However, since the 49% ownership is going to be only slightly below the required mark, the airlines will not have much issue in meeting the requisite ownership requirement.

With these two aspects settled, the EasyJet is likely to be able to continue operating its international and domestic flights across the EU states.

Ryanair

Ryanair, unlike EasyJet, does not need to move its base as it is already headquartered in Dublin, Ireland. However, the airline faces ownership pressure as the shares owned by EU citizens will fall from 60% to 40% after Brexit. To ensure compliance with the ownership rule, as a first step, the airlines could possibly ask the fund managers holding their stock to switch the funds in which the shares are held from their UK-based funds to Dublin-, Milan-, Frankfurt-, Ireland-, or Luxembourg-based funds. However, if that does not work, the company does have extraordinary provisions in its articles of association to force non-EU investors to sell their stake to ensure major control and ownership by EU nationals.

However, the airline might be facing a larger threat looming on the horizon. In case the UK replicates similar flying barriers on EU-based carriers, Ryanair might be negatively affected, as the UK is an important domestic market for the airline. To ensure smooth operations in the UK, the company will need to apply for a domestic UK Air Operator Certificate (AOC) which will let it continue its operations without major changes.

IAG-owned Airlines (British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia, and Vueling)

IAG-owned British Airways is likely to remain among one of the least Brexit-affected airlines as is does not fly intra-EU flights. Moreover, the group’s other airlines including Spanish Iberia and Vueling, as well as Irish Aer Lingus already are based in the EU and therefore can continue flying within the EU. However, the group has refused to comment on its shareholding structure which will be required to be majority EU-based for the latter three airlines to continue intra-EU operations. As per industry experts, IAG, which also has extraordinary provisions for force sale in their articles of association, may need to divest some of their non-EU-based stake and replace it by stake held by EU nationals.

EOS Perspective

While there is a significant uncertainty about the fate of the airline industry post Brexit, there is a common consensus that the sector is likely to be hit hard by the divorce. The UK and EU markets aviation sectors are largely inter-dependent, whether it is about air traffic or employment in the sector, and potential lack of regulations similar to the Open Skies Agreement will be detrimental to the industry in general as well as its consumers. This makes it vital for the Brexit negotiators to try to develop a mutually beneficial deal for the sector in general.

Having said that, it is clear that the airlines must prepare for the worst as the UK and EU seem to be heading for a hard divorce. Brexit process was formally started in March 2017 and the UK has two years to conclude all procedures and negotiations leading to the EU exit, which also puts the same timeframe for the sector to develop contingency plans. Some players, such as Ryanair hope that some form of Open Skies Agreement will be replicated, and continue to put pressure on their government for such a similar agreement to be negotiated. Other players, such as EasyJet, seem to take a more proactive approach, already investing resources in ensuring their smooth operations even if the worst case scenario materializes. Such an uncertainty about shifts in the operating environment is never favorable for any sector, UK airlines included, and as the future developments of the operating framework lie largely in the hands of negotiators, the industry players hold rather limited control over the future changes.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Brazil – Long Road Ahead

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Sentiments regarding economic recovery in Brazil rose high when Index of Economic Activity of the Central Bank (IBC-Br) recorded growth in January and February this year, only to be dampened by the March data, which showed 0.44% decline in the index. Hope of economic revival was hinged on good show by service sector, coupled with anticipation of improvement in agriculture and industrial sectors in the first quarter of 2017.

Fluctuations in IBC-Br, which is considered as a preview of Brazil’s GDP performance, indicate the fragile condition of the country’s economy, shaken by two back-to-back recessionary years. Downturn of 2015 and 2016 was uncommon in the country’s recent economic history, which had not seen the GDP declining for two straight quarters on more than four occasions since 1996. Brazil was among the few countries that were able to withstand the global financial turmoil of 2008-2009.

Reasons behind the deterioration of the Brazilian economy seem to be clear. Reliance on commodity exports for growth and high consumer debt were among the key factors that burst Brazil’s economic bubble. Unless these issues are addressed, Brazil’s long-term economic recovery will remain doubtful. Hence, it is imperative to look where the country stands with respect to each of the factors that contributed so considerably to the deterioration over the past two years.

EOS Perspective

In near term, commodities are likely to retain high share in Brazil’s external trade, as increasing the export share of finished or semi-finished goods would require significant efforts that Brazil currently is unlikely to be capable of making. Commodity prices are expected to remain volatile in near term, with soybean, sugar, and wheat likely to continue registering decline in prices (as witnessed year on year, April 2016 – April 2017). Therefore, unless the domestic demand picks up, commodity export is unlikely to assist significantly in boosting the Brazilian economy in the near future.

Keeping interest rates low is one of the ways to boost spending, and the country’s falling inflation, which in April 2017 plummeted to 4.08% (below the market forecast of 4.1%), has enabled the central bank to slash interest rates from 12.25% to 11.25%. This is expected to reduce the cost of credit for households, thereby boosting spending (amid fears of debt burden ballooning up again).

Brazil needs to create more assets to increase productivity and to create more income sources. Capital formation (a measure of investment) as a share of GDP was at about 15.5% in 2016 (fourth quarter) as compared with the high of 23% in 2013 (first quarter). The country needs to invest more, and one way to unlock funds for this would be through reforming the pension scheme (bill related to pension reforms was passed in lower house of Congress in May 2017 amid protests), which is the primary reason behind Brazil’s fiscal deficit. Brazil currently spends more than 10% of its GDP on pensions. Reforms seek to fix minimum retirement age at 65 for men and 62 for women. At present, many Brazilians qualify to retire in early to mid-fifties, and this not only impacts the productivity but also puts pressure on the government coffers.

There is a general consensus that Brazil will come out of recession in 2017, registering a modest sub-1% growth. However, to sustain this recovery, it will require a political will, fiscal discipline, and a vision for long-term growth.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

The Gloomy Post-Olympic Scenario for Brazil

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Now that the Rio Olympics have ended, Brazil will soon get to see whether the expected benefits of its enormous investment start materializing. The sports extravaganza was heavy on Brazil’s pocket, as the country spent massive amount of money on construction of sports venues, housing, transportation, and other infrastructure. Hosting Olympics has indisputably driven tourism, created job opportunities, and generated profit from industries such as transportation, hospitality, entertainment, food, retail, etc. However, this upsurge seems to have been momentary, and mostly limited till the time games lasted. The mid and long term benefits of Olympics are still questionable and raising doubts whether Brazil will pay a high price for the Olympic glory.

Hosting a massive event like Olympics is always exorbitant, requiring huge investments to spruce infrastructure, improve accommodation facilities, etc. Brazil invested heavily to host the games resulting in cost overrun of 51%. Some of the major cost heads included administration, technology, and infrastructure.

1-Cost

During the games, Brazil was flocked with visitors, restaurants and hotels were buzzing with people, who spent mammoth amount of money, adding on to Brazil’s revenue. Foreign visitors spent about US$ 617 million, while ticket sales alone generated US$ 323 million. Bars and restaurants witnessed upsurge in sales and hotels enjoyed much higher occupancy rates than any other time.


2-Impact

The post-Olympic scenario looks gloomy with minimal impact on economic growth of the country (meager addition of 0.05pp to GDP) while Brazil remains engulfed with rising inflation, public debt, and high insolvency rate. Further, results of a survey conducted by Fecomércio MG (Federation of Trade in Goods, Services, and Tourism) in 2016, suggests that only 4% people believe that Brazil will reap benefits post-games and 53.3% people consider that Olympics will have no impact on businesses.


3-Post Olympic Impact

EOS Perspective

In 2009, when Rio was chosen to host the 2016 Olympics, Brazil was at the crest of its economic boom. However, currently, Brazil is struggling to fight its third straight year of recession, growing unemployment, and double-digit inflation. The economy is expected to shrink by 3.5% in 2016 owing to weak commodity prices, political instability, and low import demand from China (one of Brazil’s key trade partners). Amidst all the economic mayhem, hosting Olympics further deepened the financial crack such that Rio had to declare a state of financial emergency, when the Brazilian government authorized a loan of US$ 850 million to pay for Olympic infrastructure and security.

Economic benefits of hosting extravagant events like Olympics are often quite exaggerated. For instance, London earned revenue of barely US$3.5 billion after its lavish spending of US$ 15 billion.

For Brazil, Olympics will definitely drive a modest short-term growth in terms of economy, tourism, and job creation, however, the net impact is likely to be negative. Investment in building massive infrastructure for Olympics and additional public spending are expected to escalate public debt. Organizing a mega sporting event like Olympics amidst rising public debt is likely to result in high inflation rate visible until 2020 and an increase in regional business bankruptcies. The benefits generated by hosting Olympics might be insufficient to compensate for the economic turmoil that had already plagued Brazil even before the games commenced. Unfortunately, the timing of hosting opulent events like World Cup and Olympics back to back might jeopardize the much needed positive impact expected from these sports events.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Sharing Economy Needs Regulator Support

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Sharing economy works on a business model where individuals have the ability to borrow or rent goods or services owned by someone else. The concept has been widely accepted in a short span of time and companies such as Uber and Airbnb have become well known among consumers. The sharing economy sector has witnessed tremendous growth with aggregate valuation of the companies operating in this market reaching US$ 140 billion in 2015. The industry has already started causing a shift in the employment sector and is said to have far-reaching implications which are likely to disrupt the traditional rental business model, particularly for companies in hotel and transportation sectors. The growth potential of sharing economy has become of considerable interest to policy makers around the globe as well, and the industry has recently come under scrutiny of various governments and regulators, and is likely to face regulatory barriers affecting its potential to scale up.

The concept of sharing economy, also known as peer-to-peer economy, facilitates a direct contact between consumers and service providers and is centered around the use of privately owned, unused inventory. Technology is key to the growth of this type of economy, which has already witnessed the emergence of several sharing platforms enabling consumers to share products and services such as cars and houses.

Sharing EconomySharing EconomySharing EconomySharing EconomyEOS Perspective

Companies such as Uber and Airbnb have become the talk of the town, due to their tremendous growth achieved thanks to a simple business model: providing consumers the ability to monetize idle inventory and rent an asset, instead of purchasing it. Sharing economy also meets consumers’ desire for social interaction, lower costs, and technology-based access to goods and services. However, the sudden and overwhelming rise in its popularity has shaken the governments’ ability to appropriately and sufficiently regulate this economy. Weak legal frameworks hampering consumer’s safety and tax collection have led to debates around the benefits of sharing economy.

Implementation of the traditional regulatory frameworks in the sharing economy sector is likely to upend the peer-to-peer business model. Inclusion and implementation of monetary employee benefits, tax obligations, and safety regulations in the sharing economy can be expected to lead to an increase in the cost of services offered by these companies, thereby defeating the purpose of the existence of sharing economy. Thus, instead of imposing regulations originally developed and meant for traditional rental sector, there arises a vital need to develop a new policy framework best suited to the peer-to-peer business model.

Instead of completely imposing bans on these services and eliminating the opportunity to make use of idle inventory, governments should work alongside these companies and create regulations tailored to their regions to encourage safe business conduct. For instance, Airbnb signed an agreement with the City of Amsterdam to promote responsible home sharing in 2015. The agreement includes a set of rules for the hosts to be followed before activating their listing, and also stipulates the collection and remittance of tourist tax by Airbnb on behalf of the hosts. In addition, the agreement also includes a partnership with Airbnb to collect content from the company’s database to shutdown illegal hotels. These efforts are expected to ensure the hosts receive clear information on renting their homes and promote consumer safety.

Sharing economy has the potential to make a tremendous impact on the traditional rental sector and is likely to create opportunities across various different economic activities. However, from a legal perspective, it cannot be ignored that the model lacks a strong regulatory support, which over time will continue to put pressure on this newly emerged sector. The peer-to-peer model will be required to address these imperatives in the near future in order to scale to new heights.

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GST Likely to Become India’s Biggest Tax Reform

Business Acronym GST as Goods and Services Tax

After 16 years from the conception of the idea, in August 2016, the Indian parliament finally passed the much awaited Constitution Amendment Bill for the introduction of Goods and Services Tax (GST) which is set to replace almost all indirect taxes in the country by April 2017, effectively simplifying India’s tax system. GST, a value added tax, is a single tax levied on the supply of goods and services from the manufacturers to the end consumers. As per this new tax regulation, the dealer of the product will be liable to pay tax only on the value added by him in the supply chain, thereby offsetting tax credits paid on inputs. Thus, the consumer will bear only the GST charged by the last party in the supply chain.

Under the previous tax regime, the state and the central governments levied different charges such as income tax, sales tax, excise duty, central tax, and security transaction tax separately. The GST is set to replace this procedure of implementing multiple indirect taxes with a single comprehensive tax regime under the GST umbrella. The new regime will have a dual structure with the central government and the state government having administrative powers to charge GST across the supply chain. It will include three kinds of taxes: the central GST, the state GST, and an integrated GST to handle inter-sate transaction.

This new tax reform is said to have far reaching impact on the Indian economy. It aims to eliminate the shortcomings of the current way of applying taxes across the supply chain involving numerous multi-layered policies and to remove the ‘cascading effect’ of multiple taxes on goods and services. The old regime of imposing separate taxes on goods and services and dividing transaction values for taxation purpose led to administrative complications and high compliance costs. The new system of uniform and integrated tax rates is likely to facilitate ease of doing business in the country, while the removal of inter-state taxes is likely to reduce time and logistics cost of the movement of goods. In addition, the integration of taxes and removal of Central Sales Tax (CST) is expected to lead to a decline in prices of domestic goods and services. Lower transaction costs combined with the removal of CST are likely to facilitate a rise in the competitiveness of the country’s goods and services in the international market and boost exports.

A robust IT infrastructure will be the backbone of the GST system, initiating ease of tax administration for the government and transparent and easy conduct of tax services, such as payments and registrations, for the citizens. Only a comprehensive IT infrastructure is likely to enable smooth transfer of tax credit across the supply chain, keeping a check on leakage. The new system is also expected to lead to a decline in the cost of tax collection, thereby generating high tax revenues for the government.

The GST system is also believed to be of significant importance to the consumers. Multiple indirect taxes levied by the central and state governments led to incomplete input tax credit availability which had to be adjusted against tax payable leading to the inclusion of various hidden taxes in the cost of goods and services. The GST system will levy a single tax from the manufacturer to the consumer, providing transparency and clarity of taxes paid. Further, efficient business conduct and reduction of leakages will lower the tax burden on the goods.

While the GST promises to streamline the indirect tax regime with a single tax, it has to overcome various challenges to be successful. Since the country is adopting a dual structure with the central and state governments, the main issue would be the coordination between different states. The central and state governments will be required to come to an agreement regarding the GST rates, administration efficiency, and the implementation of the GST, which might prove to be a cumbersome procedure. Further, IT infrastructure, which is said to be the foundation of the GST regime, will be a critical factor affecting the success of the new system. A strong technology support connecting all state governments, banks, industry, and other stakeholders on a real-time basis will be required for the efficient conduct of business. In addition, since the working of the GST tax regime is different from the indirect tax system, proper training will be required for the tax administrative staff at central and state levels regarding legislation and procedures within the GST. Another factor the government will need to consider is to adjust the new tax in a way that the tax revenue remains at least same without any revenue loss. For this purpose, a Revenue Neutral Rate (RNR) will need to be calculated and critically evaluated, as such a rate is likely to have a great impact on the Indian economy.

GST is a much awaited revolutionary tax reform in the Indian economy. If implemented properly, it is believed to add 2% to 2.5% to the nation’s GDP in the long run. It promises ease of doing business, economic growth, and higher tax revenue. Even with the diverse challenges the new tax regime is likely to be faced with, the GST has the potential to be a game changer for the Indian economy in the near future and is said to pave the way to a ‘one nation, one tax’ system.

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