Reuters blog archive
On the face of it, the good news for the British government keeps on coming. Britain’s economy grew surprisingly fast last year and inflation fell below the Bank of England’s target for the first time in over four years in January. The government this month even got a nod from the International Monetary Fund which only last year criticized its austerity programme.
The latest confidence boost came from jobless figures on Wednesday. Not only did the unemployment rate fall to a five-year low of 6.9 percent but pay growth caught up with inflation for the first time in nearly four years. That provides Prime Minister David Cameron’s government with another lift ahead of the 2015 elections, after it has come under fire from the Labour opposition for overseeing a fall in living standards.
But a closer look at the data suggests a more nuanced picture.
Indeed, total pay growth in February reached 1.7 percent – matching the 1.7 percent rise in consumer prices in February and above their 1.6 percent increase in March.
But excluding bonuses, wage growth was 1.4 percent – below consumer price readings for February and March.
Vladimir Putin will meet senior Russian government officials to discuss Russia's economic ties with Ukraine, including on energy after state-controlled natural gas producer Gazprom said Kiev missed a deadline to pay a $2.2 billion bill.
In previous years, gas disputes between Moscow and Kiev have hurt supplies to Europe. The Ukraine government has said it would take Russia to an arbitration court if Moscow failed to roll back gas price hikes.
It’s ECB day and the general belief is that it won’t do anything despite inflation dropping to 0.5 percent in March, chalking up its sixth successive month in the European Central Bank’s “danger zone” below 1 percent.
The reasons? Policymakers expect inflation to rise in April for a variety of reasons, one being that this year's late Easter has delayed the impact of rising travel and hotel prices at a time when many Europeans take a holiday. Depressed food prices might also start to rise before long.
from Anatole Kaletsky:
Britain’s government budget released this week is not a statement of economic policy. It is a program for winning next year’s general election.
In this sense, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s speech was a natural development from the 2013 Budget, which launched Britain’s current economic recovery. I was one of the few analysts to perceive the remarkable transformation of the British economy that immediately resulted from last year’s budget because what Osborne did was deliberately obscured by what he said.
The annual UK budget is always a big set piece but it’s hard to remember one where there have been fewer advance leaks – indicative of a steady-as-she-goes approach by George Osborne.
Having put so much political capital into reducing the deficit, to switch now at a time when the economy is recovering strongly would be politically risky. And with debt falling only slowly there is little fiscal leeway.
That’s not to say this isn’t a big political moment. Yes there is the finance minister’s autumn statement and another budget before May 2015 elections but this is the moment when the narrative for the economy and Britons’ wellbeing is staked out.
Kiev has appealed for Western help to stop Moscow annexing Crimea, where a referendum on joining Russia will be held on Sunday. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk will take that message to Washington and the United Nations.
The West says the referendum is illegal. U.S. lawmakers are preparing sanctions against Russia and European Union leaders could impose penalties, such as bans on visas for key Russian officials, as early as Monday if Vladimir Putin does not come to the negotiating table. There is no sign that he will and there is no question of western force being deployed.
A reported 0300 GMT deadline, which Russian forces denied had been issued, for Ukraine’s troops to disarm in Crimea or face the consequences has passed without incident and in the last hour President Vladimir Putin has ordered troops that took part in military exercises in western Russia to return to base.
That has helped lift the euro but the situation remains incredibly tense. Russia’s stock market is up a little over two percent and the rouble has found a footing but they are nowhere near clawing back Monday’s precipitous losses.
from Photographers' Blog:
By Cathal McNaughton
It’s like a scene from a Hollywood disaster movie. The Somerset village of Moorland is under five feet of water. Wading along the usually bustling main street, I am struck by how quiet it is – everything has an eerie, post-apocalyptic feel.
The only sound I can hear is coming from the now breached flood defences moving backwards and forwards in the ebb and flow of the rising waters, creaking like a sinking ship.
Violence in Ukraine has escalated to a whole new level. The health ministry says 25 people have been killed in fighting between anti-government protesters and police who tried to clear a central square in Kiev. The crackdown, it seems, has been launched.
President Viktor Yanukovich met opposition leaders for talks last night but his opponents, Vitaly Klitschko and Arseny Yatsenyuk, quit the talks without reaching any agreement on how to end the violence and said they would not return while blood is being shed.
from The Human Impact:
Britain has announced new measures to tackle the hidden crime of female genital mutilation making it compulsory for doctors and nurses to record FGM cases. London community worker Sarian Karim Kamara, who underwent FGM as a child in Sierra Leone, told me how it has affected her life and why midwives are on the frontline in efforts to end the brutal practice.
“I’ll never forget what happened to me. I was only 11 years old and I’m 36 now. I’ve had five children and the pain I went through on that day cannot begin to compare to any of my labour pains. It’s indescribable.