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Equity Magazine Interview, September 20th, 2011

 

 

 

 

Patrick L Young has almost 30 years experience in financial markets, having first traded stocks and options as a schoolboy. A derivatives specialist, he has worked throughout the world as an analyst (both fundamental and technical), broker, market maker and trader as well as a founder/manager/CEO and Chairman with various investment, media and IT businesses. Nowadays, an expert advisor to the world’s leading investors in financial infrastructure, Young is the author of several books including “Capital Market Revolution!” which first discussed the future of digital markets in 1999. He is currently working on several new projects and is a very passionate investor in the “New Europe,” centred around Poland. On a recent visit to Poland from his home in Monaco, Young took time out to talk with Equity Magazine…

EM: Patrick, as co-editor of The Gathering Storm  you have been among those practitioners who predicted the 2008 crunch. Is the storm now over? Or are we facing the second episode of the story called Global Financial Crisis?

P: I was delighted to create “The Gathering Storm” along with the brilliant hedge fund manager Lee Robinson and the good news is that, if anything, the book will be more prescient on its first birthday than when it was originally published nearly a year ago!

The bad news is that this means the economy is in a deeply parlous state in the world’s richest nations. “TGS” was written to explain what could happen in the future if politicians did not get a grip on the economic fundamentals. Sadly, not only have the politicians comprehensively failed to do so but the situation has accelerated and risks spinning out of control in the very near future.

Is it a ‘double dip?’ Well, I would argue the major economies still haven’t emerged from the first downturn yet! Indeed, the situation looks even worse as I am concerned that China may yet sees its prodigiously high growth of recent years result in some form of recession – at least partially driven by the fact that western markets are themselves mired in a downward spiral of deleveraging.

I am very concerned about how the global financial crisis will now play out. The US lacks economic leadership and the Eurozone has no leadership at all. There is a currency crisis and the debt binging of recent decades is coming to an ugly halt. Meanwhile many consumers feel things aren’t getting much better and a great many of them are already unemployed – poor devils. The US is far from the worst nation in this respect but 9.1% unemployment with more than half of these people out of work for more than a year is a damning indictment of government intervention.

So, ultimately the west gets worse and whether it is just a continuation or a ‘double dip’ is up to the pedants to argue over. What I see is stagnation and the danger of a lost decade in the major western economies with a pretty hard landing coming up on the radar…

EM: Current sovereign debt problems in Europe are a consequence of a long-neglected financial discipline in Euro Zone countries. In your latest article in Financial Times  together with Lee Robinson you come up with an interesting solution to solve the problem. Can you outline it for Equity Magazine readers?

P: Yes, we have produced a simple “market solution” in answer to Mrs Merkel’s request! The idea is simple. Essentially, debt up to around 50 or 60% of GDP is regarded as very easily sustainable for sovereign states. Therefore we ought to create two tiers of debt for Eurozone nations: A top tier which encompasses an agreed safe tranche of debt (let’s say 50% of GDP) and then a second follow-on tier for those governments which wish to borrow more. (Of course Poland has prudent debt legislation on its statue books, if only the west had similar programmes perhaps this crisis might have been averted!).

So, now debt-laden nations would have an opportunity to tier their debt and as they begin refunding from within the Eurozone they could initially sell the top tranche of debt until they reached the issuance cap. This less risky debt would be very likely to gain a coveted AAA rating and thus many investors would like it. At the same time, the other debt would be lower rated and this tranche would sell at a higher yield which for instance might attractyield hungry domestic investors.

A core part of the thesis is to provide nations with a breathing space as they refunded in the current difficult economic climate as well as presenting a very strong stimulus to governments to reduce their borrowings over time. (In addition to the FT article, an e-pamphlet on the topic will be available soon which gives more details on the concept).

Above all else, our scheme has the wonderful advantage of being very cheap to create as it does not require the huge bailouts which up to now have simply failed to stop the crisis. In fact this scheme could be operative within days, all it needs is a little regulatory drafting and so forth but next to nothing compared with the grandiose (and surely doomed) talk of pan-EU treaty changes requiring referenda and other lengthy proceedures.

EM:  In your strategic review as CEO of Sibiu Stock Exchange earlier this year you stated the concept that “The World Is Moving East?” Does that mean that American and Western European financial centres should be afraid to lose their primacy soon?

P:  I have used several maxims for many years which are increasingly being proven correct – this is heartening for my analysis although rather unfortunate when it comes to the ones concerned with the Euro crisis and “The Gathering Storm!” etc.

For instance, I have made it clear for many years that “this is a derivatives world” – plain vanilla cash instruments remain very important but ultimately growth is driven from the derivatives markets that nowadays permeate the lives of every citizen (even if the self-same citizens mostly do not realise it!).

Likewise, I have made it very clear for more than a decade that the world is moving east. Several factors are at play here including the rise of the south-east Asian countries and especially China but also, significantly the appearance of the “New Europe” where I am a passionate investor nowadays! For me, as a European born on the western fringes of the region (in Ireland), the single greatest event in my lifetime has been the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the return of the “New Europe” to free markets. I doubt I will witness another event of such enormity even though I will be living for a great deal longer yet – many more than you might immediately expect, thanks to developments in nanotechnology and bio-science I might add!

So economies and markets in the west are essentially bound to become less important as part of the global economy. Indeed if they remain as badly governed as they are now, then their descent from overall economic primacy will be accelerated. That is ultimately not in anybody’s interests as rapidly declining nations are often unstable and can create all manner of nasty situations.

However, the question as you intriguingly framed it refers to financial centres and here you touch upon a fascinating (and frankly, widely misunderstood) area of modern markets. Of course, western financial centres must fear the rise of the eastern financial centres in absolute terms but at the same time, financial centres are not a zero sum game. The fact that thousands of workers in Poland now enjoy considerable investment portfolios that were forbidden to them under Communism does not mean that the investors of London are poorer! Rather the opposite in fact!

So it is with financial centres – they are places where markets are made and trade is born. They have a rich history dating back thousands of years. Right now I suspect that actually London will remain the most important financial centre in the world for many years to come simply because it is so cosmopolitan and is a huge pool of talent and services for all manner of asset classes and markets throughout the world.

However, while London and New York may be enormous centres of capital, it is true that some smaller centres may face difficulties. Satellite financial centres need to find a sustainable business model (e.g. Dublin, Luxembourg or Zurich) if they are to survive and prosper in an era of rising eastern hegemony.

At the same time, even in the “New Europe” the biggest financial centre is Warsaw which is barely developed. On a scale of one to ten it is perhaps at 2 if we are really optimistic. That is not to belittle the enormous achievements of Warsaw and Polish markets in recent years. Rather it is a very good example of just how enormous the opportunity is for the markets of the New Europe! When I chaired the Global Financial Service Centre Conference it never ceased to amaze me how people obsessed about financial centre competition when in reality the market for financial centres is sufficient to support dozens of such centres throughout the world, each with slightly different specialities and talent pools.

EM: How does your concept of Moving East influence your investments in New Europe e.g. in Poland?

P:  I have more than a decade of direct experience working in the New Europe from the Baltic states south to the Yugosphere and in multiple nations to the east, including Russia. Put simply, the maths is utterly compelling – huge numbers of largely well educated citizens who want to work and yet earn what are very reasonable sums compared to western Europe and the USA. The opportunity for development is enormous and encompasses many sectors.

Right now I have interests in various countries but my headquarters for my New Europe business is in Poland. Poland has the wonderful advantage of being a politically stable nation truly in the heart of Europe. Skills are high and wages reasonable – that makes it attractive for entrepreneurs like myself. Right now the only restraints to my investment are time and of course, capital. I expect to have some new ventures coming to fruition in Poland and the region during the next year and my committment to Poland remains considerable.

To go back to my last book “The Gathering Storm” the key factor to bear in mind was that I contributed the final chapter which actually looked at how there were incredible opportunities to be had even in the eye of a dreadful western economic situation that could become a catclysm. Moreover, I directly identified Poland and the New Europe as being amongst the key areas I identify within what I see as a “world of opportunity” for investors.

Indeed, when I look at the possibilities I think they are almost infinite. Moreover, on a personal note, I have no current involvement with the Polish financial sector despite my expertise in this area, all my investment is in property and more general trade and property related business right now. Hopefully I will have the time to make more investments and indeed also find some spare time enjoy my hobbies more in Poland such as music, horse racing, motorsport and classic cars!

Right now Poland and the New Europe mostly have relatively low corruption environments with a stable rule of law and that is a great basis for enduring economic growth which is why I am so passionate about investing in the New Europe and Poland in particular!

EM: Can you share your views and experiences of investing in Poland? How do you perceive investing climate in our country as our authorities try to encourage investors to do business here?

P: To be perfectly frank I have never been encouraged to do business by any Polish authorities!

I once met staff in a city office who gave me some lovely sweets but when I asked them for practical help with the sprawling bureaucracy (registering a vehicle for our business and so forth), they simply did not know what to do themselves!

Of course I am sure Poland does a better job with larger FDI investors than my modest portfolio of investments but actually overall I find that most government authorities are pretty disinterested in assisting foreigners.

What I would like to see from the authorities are small investment offices staffed by people who understand the practicalities of business. True, finding sites and so forth can be tricky but actually it’s the difficulty of dealing with the day to day bureaucracy which is a grinding waste of productive time for entrepreneurs and so far I have not found any staff who are good at this (I am sure there are given the broad spread of Poland – I am just sorry I have not found you and your city yet!!).

Overall there are always problems investing in all emerging markets and Poland shares many of these! The bureaucracy is essentially sclerotic  - too much overall with too many arbitrary and costly rules to comply with and a huge amount of productive time is wasted shuttling back and forth between offices getting utterly irrelevant documents signed, counter-signed, stamped and franked. As a foreigner, provincial offices like to send me to Warsaw…at least there they try to be helpful and send me back with a note saying that actually it has nothing to do with them! The political classes have to get to grips with this civil service culture as it is stifling the nation’s potential – I am a great Shumpeter fan and nowhere do my feelings of creative destruction feel greater than when dealing with certain Polish civil servants!

In Poland (as with much of the region), the quality of service is frequently abysmal. Perhaps that is a little harsh – it is improving in many places but actually overall it is still very poor. Utilities are largely unreconstructed communist monoliths with a “screw you” attitude (at best) towards customers. Even ‘new’ technology services such as mobile phones suffer from an utter lack of customer service. Equally, Poland needs to improve its internet offerings which are slow and expensive compared to those in neighbouring countries.

Frankly, the government cannot move fast enough in cutting through ridiculous red tape that is killing entrepreneurship – progress has been disappointingly slow in recent years. Overall tax rates are not bad for companies but frankly discouraging for individuals – particularly given the flat tax rates available in many neighbouring states. However it remains the bureaucracy which is the worst factor. Poland has many entrepreneurs who are being strangled by red tape – that is a disaster as it is small businesses which build robust dynamic economies and become the large companies of the future.

Poland is roughly on a par with its neighbours in terms of doing business but given the competition for FDI that is going to emerge in the deleveraging world of the next decade, Poland needs to reform aggressively if it is to achieve its potential of Central Europe’s leading economy. After the elections, another dose of shock therapy, particularly aimed at the bureaucracy would be most welcome as deregulation cannot come fast enough in many aspects of business life.

EM: What do you think about the idea of Equity Magazine- a free publication, where financial professionals share their knowledge and experiences with those who want to become financially conscious?

P:  In many ways Equity Magazine epitomizes all that is best about Poland. It deploys an innovative entrepreneurial approach to deliver a traditional content stream through a new distribution channel and does so at a price that simply cannot be beaten! The prospects for broad distribution are always a key aspect to free publication models and this dynamic ought to be good for Equity. Having worked with Internet businesses since 1995 I see Equity as a very logical development in this sector. Moreover when it comes to the content, investor education is a vital area for sustainable economic growth. The GPW has been an enormous success and is building an equity and investor consciousness that will be vital to the future development of Poland. Wieslaw Roslucki and his successor Ludwik Sobolewski are to be applauded for their incredible success. The GPW team has created by far the most successful marketplace in all of the New Europe. Equity magazine works to help consolidate and propagate the understanding of investment markets and that is going to be vital for all of our economic and investing futures!

EM: Thank you.

P: Thank you.

 

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Copyright © 2011 Patrick L Young
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Main photo: flickr.com/photos/photomek