North America

The number of insolvencies jumped 30 per cent in the Red Deer region in the first three months of the year compared with 2018, the Red Deer Advocate reported. Insolvency numbers jumped 15 per cent provincewide, and just a year ago, the trend was moving in the right direction. Alberta’s insolvency figures are bleaker than the nation’s as a whole, where such cases were up six per cent in the first quarter. MNP senior vice-president and insolvency trustee Donna Carson said last year’s numbers likely improved because workers laid off earlier in the slump were finding jobs.

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An associate professor of business at Carleton University in Ottawa says Newfoundland and Labrador is headed for trouble if it continues on its current spending path, VOCM reported. The province is mired in debt to the tune of over $15-billion. Interest costs are one of the largest expenditures in the budget. Ian Lee notes that the Parliamentary Budget Office, an arm of the federal government, crunched the numbers and found that all provinces except Quebec are in bad financial shape but that Newfoundland and Labrador is the worst of all.

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Canadian consumers filed the most insolvencies in eight years in March, an indication record debt levels may be catching up with an increasing number of households, Bloomberg News reported. The Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcies reported consumer insolvencies rose 5.7% to 11,963 in March, compared with 11,315 in the same month a year earlier. It was the highest volume of filings in any month since March 2011.

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When Parq Vancouver, a glimmering waterfront casino, opened amid much to-do in late 2017, few would’ve anticipated that a dirty money crackdown was about to throw the city’s roaring gambling business into turmoil, Bloomberg News reported. Vancouver-area casinos for years had been accepting millions of dollars in questionable cash from gamblers showing up with suitcases and hockey bags bulging with bills, according to British Columbia Attorney General David Eby. But new rules implemented last year to more tightly identify sources of funds have put a damper on that rollicking trade.

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Some of those shorting Canadian banks contend that the firms aren’t preparing adequately for higher loan losses if credit conditions worsen, Bloomberg News reported. The argument by investors including money manager Steve Eisman and PAA Research LLC’s Bradley Safalow has to do with accounting changes Canadian banks made after adopting global rules known as International Financial Reporting Standard 9 in late 2017. Previously, banks set aside money for bad loans -- also known as a provision for credit losses -- when recognizing a loss.

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Canadian households are wallowing in debt. Home prices are falling. Credit growth, the key driver for bank earnings, is hovering close to its slowest pace since 1983, Bloomberg News reported. All of which should be bad news for the country’s lenders -- and good news for investors betting against them. “Should” being the operative word. Even with danger signs piling up, the shares of the six biggest Canadian banks have stubbornly refused to drop, instead surging 9.4 percent this year -- and frustrating short sellers hoping to make money on stock-price declines.

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True believers in Petroleos Mexicanos are fueling a rally in its bonds, reckoning that government support for the beleaguered state-owned company will ultimately provide a backstop from any troubles, Bloomberg News reported. Investors including MetLife, Pictet and SMBC Nikko Securities say Pemex’s bonds were overly punished last year amid concerns the government isn’t doing enough to address the company’s problems. The challenge of falling production given Pemex’s $108 billion of debt and high taxes is real, but optimists argue its yields shouldn’t be much above sovereign notes.

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Canadians Are Feeling the Debt Burn

Household debt in Canada, a nation generally known for moderation, has reached levels that could be qualified as excessive, Bloomberg News reported. Canadians owe C$2.16 trillion—which, as a share of gross domestic product, is the highest debt load in the Group of Seven economies. With the housing market cooling, a reckoning may be fast approaching.

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Philip Morris International Inc on Friday said its Canadian unit, Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc (RBH), was granted creditor protection, following a tobacco class action ruling in Quebec this month, Reuters reported. The company said it would deconsolidate RBH from its financial statements, and it cut its full-year 2019 diluted earnings per share forecast to at least $4.90 at prevailing exchange rates, from at least $5.28 in the forecast it made on March 4, shortly after the ruling in Quebec.

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The prior instalment of this sovereign insolvency blog trilogy concluded that "output foregone" is huge in highly-indebted IMF programme countries with high growth potential, the Financial Times reported. That is because in such cases, IMF programme design prioritises debt recovery ahead of activity. It imposes exorbitant primary surplus targets, wrecking the balance between primary spending and low taxes that is necessary to realise high productive potential. Jamaica is a case in point.

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