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from Anatole Kaletsky:

Europe’s economic and political future will be determined in the next few days

A candidate dressed as Darth Vader and representing the Internet Party of Ukraine which runs for parliament, stands on the top a vehicle as he leaves after a meeting with his supporters and voters in Kiev

Europe is at a make or break moment. Two very different events on Sunday, occurring at opposite ends of Europe, will largely determine the entire continent’s direction for years ahead: the parliamentary election in Ukraine and the bank “stress tests” and Asset Quality Review conducted by the European Central Bank. Before explaining the significance of these two events, and their unexpected linkage, I need to mention a third announcement, due next Wednesday: the European Commission’s verdict on the budget for 2015 submitted last week by the French government.

The Commission will next week have to come up with a Solomonic judgment that somehow reconciles the French government’s determination to stimulate its economy by cutting taxes with the German-imposed “fiscal compact” that former-President Nicolas Sarkozy rashly accepted in a moment of desperation in the 2012 euro crisis and which requires France to raise taxes or drastically cut spending in order to reduce its budget deficit to 3 percent of GDP. The fiscal compact rules, if applied literally, would make economic recovery in France a mathematical impossibility. Yet bending these rules will provoke a German public backlash, and perhaps even a constitutional court challenge, that could even force Angela Merkel to renege on her commitment to support the rest of the euro-zone.

Depending on how these three events turn out, Europe will either be on the road to a moderate economic recovery next year or it will condemned to permanent stagnation, possibly leading to the break-up the euro or even the European Union as a whole.

Why are the stakes suddenly so high? With most of Europe sliding back into recession over the summer as a result of the war in Ukraine and the failure to implement the sort of policies of monetary and fiscal stimulus that revived the U.S., Japanese and British economies, Europe now has an obvious choice: stick to the failed policies which are almost certain to perpetuate economic stagnation or to change course.

from Hugo Dixon:

Markets right to worry about euro zone

By Hugo Dixon

Hugo Dixon is Editor-at-Large, Reuters News. The opinions expressed are his own.

The markets are right to worry about the euro zone, the epicentre of last week’s fright. Its three big economies – Germany, France and Italy – are, in their own ways, stuck.

from MacroScope:

Greek confidence vote

A Greek and an EU flag flutter in front of the temple of the Parthenon during the takeover ceremony of the six-month rotation of Greece's EU Presidency in Athens

Greece’s ruling coalition will hold a confidence vote in parliament this evening in an effort to end speculation that the country may be facing snap elections early next year.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras wants to use the vote to gain support for his candidate in a presidential vote. Under Greek law, parliament must be dissolved if a president cannot be elected. The radical leftist Syriza, which has a sizeable lead in opinion polls, has pledged to block Samaras's pick.

from Morning Bid with David Gaffen:

Speak softly, and carry a big helicopter

Days like Wednesday are the ones that remind investors why the Federal Reserve is what it is, and how some believe the other world central banks cannot compete, even as some expect the European Central Bank and Bank of Japan (to an extent) to take up the slack the Fed will leave behind when it ends quantitative easing in the next weeks and prepares for its first interest-rate hike some time in the third quarter.

The odds on that hike, by the way, shifted late Wednesday after the Fed's minutes showed there was concern about moving policy too quickly. It’s the pace of increases that worries the Fed, not the idea of doing it at all. The Fed is likely to push rates to about 50 basis points either in July or September (the market is betting on September now, the Fed is probably thinking July), but it’s important to keep in mind that the monetary policy committee is not going to then start doing the one-move-per-meeting thing they did in the last rate-hiking cycle back in the Pre-Cambrian Era.

from MacroScope:

Shocking German figures

A new Mercedes AMG GT super sports car rim is seen during a factory tour for journalists at the Mercedes AMG headquarters in Affalterbach

After a stunning fall in German industrial orders for August – the 5.7 percent monthly drop was the largest since the global financial crisis raged in 2009 – industrial output for the same month has just plunged by 4.0 percent, also the biggest fall in five years.

After Europe’s largest economy shrank in the second quarter there had been hope of a pick-up in the following three months but the thrust of recent data suggests it will be lucky to achieve any expansion at all.

from Global Markets Forum Dashboard:

More volatility expected as Fed rate rise looms – Cumberland Advisors’ David Kotok

David Kotok, Cumberland Advisors

David Kotok, Cumberland Advisors

A healthy dose of fear has re-entered financial markets in the final three months of the year. The Chicago Board Options Exchange VIX, a widely tracked measure of market volatility, rose to a two-month high on Wednesday.

Varying news reports offered threats from the Ebola virus and a stagnating European economy as tangential reasons. Perhaps another point is many investors view the U.S. Federal Reserve’s pending decision to raise interest rates as a rumbling train far off in the distance that they now hear headed their way. Closer to the horizon are headlines that can no longer lean on “Fed easing” to explain away rising asset prices and a rising stock market.

from Breakingviews:

Sovereign doom loop haunts EU bank stress tests

By George Hay

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The euro zone’s nascent banking union was supposed to unpick the “sovereign doom loop” by which ropey banks endangered weak countries, and vice versa. Its first task was to be a rigorous test of how much capital each lender could count on in adverse scenarios. Yet the new single banking supervisor’s exercise could tighten, rather than loosen, the state/bank co-dependency.

from Breakingviews:

Commodity bear market looks entrenched

By Swaha Pattanaik

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.

The commodities bear market looks entrenched. Strong supply-side responses, or successful economic stimulus by the European Central Bank, would be required to reverse price falls. Neither looks terribly likely.

from Hugo Dixon:

UK faces unpalatable election choice

By Hugo Dixon

Hugo Dixon is Editor-at-Large, Reuters News. The opinions expressed are his own.

The UK faces an unpalatable choice in next May’s general election. The Labour opposition, which is currently ahead in the polls, has a somewhat anti-business agenda. Meanwhile, the Conservatives want to hold a referendum on Britain’s EU membership. If the people vote to quit the EU, industry will lose full access to its biggest external market.

from MacroScope:

TLTRO effect is the ECB’s Waiting for Godot

AWhen banks are offered hundreds of billions of euros worth of what is essentially free money and they don't take everything they can get, something has gone seriously wrong.

The European Central Bank's latest offer of cheap cash to banks -- only this time tied to loans they provide to private sector businesses rather than with no strings attached -- has gotten off to a weak start.

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