- 2013 GDP growth weakest since the crisis year 2009
- Mixed performance on CEE stock markets, negative impact due to weak economic activity and US monetary policy
- Croatia's accession of the EU opens up long-term opportunities for the Zagreb stock exchange
- ATX target: 2,550 points by the end of year
- Favourites for Austria and CEE: RHI, Flughafen Wien, Lenzing, Netia, Komercni Banka, Egis, Magnit
„The GDP readings for the first quarter of 2013 in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) were quite mixed, but negative trends set the overall tone. While Romania and Hungary beat the expectations, disappointing results were mainly seen in the region's larger economies, such as Russia, Ukraine, Poland and the Czech Republic. In Austria, the flat result was in line with our estimates. In 2013, GDP growth has been the weakest since the crisis year of 2009," starts Peter Brezinschek, head of Raiffeisen Research, a unit of Raiffeisen Bank International AG (RBI), his analysis in the recent publication for the third quarter „Strategies Austria & CEE".
The situation in CEE did not change much in the second quarter, either. Most of the industrial production data for the spring indicate that activity is still in the process of bottoming out. Leading indicators, however, are pointing modestly higher, nourishing hopes of a tiny increase in GDP for the second half of the year. Nevertheless, moderate GDP growth rates will not return until 2014. "We have lowered our projections for some individual countries, like Russia or Ukraine, leaving the CEE region as a whole with a real GDP growth forecast of around 2.5 per cent for the coming year, which still falls significantly short of the potential growth rate. The Austrian GDP may expand by up to 1.5 per cent in 2014, supported by net exports and private consumption, as well as the beneficial situation in Germany," Brezinschek continues.
Austria: lower payroll taxes primarily to be financed by spending cuts
As inflation has also declined to new lows in most countries this year (with the exception of Russia and Romania), budget consolidation efforts are proceeding slowly. In Austria, the fact that the budget balances for 2013 and 2014 are estimated at less than 3 and 2 per cent of GDP, respectively, is due exclusively to the above-average growth in revenues, in particular the wage/ income tax. The revenues side is also supported by an average inflation rate of 1.9 per cent, which continues to be stubbornly higher than inflation in the Eurozone.
"Consequently, the reduction in payroll taxes, which will be necessary after the elections in our opinion, will have to be mainly financed by spending cuts in order to maintain Austria's attractiveness as a business location", says Brezinschek regarding the upcoming Austrian general elections in September.
Short-term pressure on CEE currencies possible
The downward trend in interest rates across the CEE region including Turkey has been accompanied by a very expansive monetary policy by the ECB. The declines in inflation will allow for further cuts in interest rates until the end of the year, but these reductions will likely come to an end in the next six months, due to the global liquidity debate and expected rebounds in economic activity and inflation.
"Until the spring, declining interest rate differentials were still supported by short-term capital flows, but in the short run these flows of "hot money" are likely to turn around and thus generate pressure on CEE currencies. By year-end, however, we project somewhat better exchange rates versus the euro again", says Brezinschek.
CEE equity markets hit by negative sentiment on the Emerging Markets
Whilst the declines in yields on most CEE government bonds reflect the positive side of the global liquidity supply, the equity markets are being hit more by negative sentiment on the Emerging Markets. In particular the big stock exchanges in Russia and Poland are impacted, whilst Hungary, Croatia and Romania were able to slightly be in the black since the beginning of the year. "Discussions about a change in the US Fed's policy will have a detrimental impact on the CEE markets as well. Initially, the stock markets all over Eastern Europe will thus suffer through a period of corrections, but conditions should then improve towards the end of the year in 2013 as economic expectations begin to brighten up", outlines Brezinschek his forecast for the second half of the year.
For government bonds, the negative impact of international capital flows is balanced out against positive developments in domestic interest rates. Russian government and corporate bonds offer attractive potential for returns over a horizon of three to12 months. Polish and Romanian government bonds are also recommended for purchase for a term of two to six months.
Croatia's accession of the EU opens up long-term opportunities for Zagreb stock exchange
"Having advanced into the role of a top performer in the first quarter, the Croatian CROBEX10 index plunged back again in the second. The stock market is suffering from the chronically weak growth, as the economy has been stuck in recession for five years now. For 2013, we expect a GDP-decrease of 0.5 per cent", starts Brezinschek his analysis for the latest EU Member State. "Croatia's accession to the EU certainly opens up new long-term opportunities for the Zagreb stock exchange. An improvement in the risk perception of Croatia together with acceleration of the convergence process will probably bear fruit over the long term in the form of increased inflows of capital from abroad. However, these positive factors still have no impact".
ATX target: 2,350 by end of September; 2,550 points by end of the year
Analysts of Raiffeisen Centrobank (RCB) predict the Austrian capital market as well as stock exchanges in CEE to move sideways over the summer months. The ATX target by the end
of September is expected to be 2,350 points, corresponding to an increase of approximately
4 per cent in the third quarter. By the end of the year, the dynamic should gain even more momentum, taking the leading Austrian index to 2,550 points. Although yields of Austrian, German and US government bonds saw substantial increases recently, Bernd Maurer, deputy chief analyst at RCB, highlights the attractiveness of equities in comparison to other asset categories, "With a price/earnings ratio of 10.9, the ATX is attractively evaluated after the latest correction, and key evaluation figures should increase over the next twelve months in the light of a continuing low interest rate environment".
Given the cautious growth forecasts in Europe, Austrian companies enforced their activities
in the growth markets Asia and South America as well as in the USA. RHI, voestalpine, Semperit, Palfinger and Lenzing belong to those companies who generate the highest turnovers in Emerging Markets.
Austrian equity favourites: RHI, Flughafen Wien, Lenzing
RHI, Flughafen Wien and Lenzing are seen as favourites among the Austrian equities by RCB's company research team. The positive assessment of RHI is still based on the expansion of the number of production sites in emerging markets (BRIC, USA) as well as on the positive effects generated from higher backward integration. The level of self-sufficiency with magnesite is currently 80 per cent. According to Maurer, the buy-recommendation for Flughafen Wien is well grounded in the visible positive effects stemming from cost saving programs that eventually did not lead to an increase of operating costs after the launch of the new terminal "Check-in 3". Additionally, the latest and slightly disappointing number of passengers should see a turnaround in the coming months. RCB also highlights Lenzing, as the recent decline in the price was fundamentally not justified according to the analysts. Moreover, the company research team expects a stabilization of Lenzing's viscose prices.
CEE Top-Picks: Netia, Komercni Banka, Egis, Magnit
In CEE, the current favourites are Polish telecommunications company Netia because of a takeover phantasy; Czech Komercni Banka as the beneficiary of the increasing equity yield levels and the Hungarian pharma company Egis based on its high exposure in the rapidly growing Russian market. In Russia, the analysts are in favour of the locally traded share of the retail company Magnit.