Reuters blog archive
It seems eons since the euro zone finance ministers’ meetings which made such a hash of the Cyprus bailout but they were only two months ago. Monday’s Eurogroup will be altogether less eventful with some of the gathering probably a little jaded having spent part of their weekend at the G7 outside London where the usual differences about growth versus austerity and banking reform were aired.
No one will be sorry for a more routine meeting and there are no icebergs on the horizon but the agenda is still a full one. Featuring will be the economic situation on the basis of the Commission's latest forecasts, the state of play in Cyprus, the decision already taken to release more bailout money to Greece, the new steps taken by Portugal to fill the gaps in its budget after the country’s top court struck some measures out, a review of European Commission reports on what is ailing Spain and Slovenia and a broad discussion about the merits of the ESM bailout being allowed to recapitalise bank retroactively from next year.
Italy offers a range of bonds at auction worth up to 8 billion euros which should be snapped up given the European Central Bank’s underwriting of the euro zone and Japanese money coursing through the financial system.
Germany’s Economy Ministry publishes its monthly report and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble makes a speech, this ahead of Q1 GDP figures on Wednesday which are likely to show that of the bigger members of the euro zone club, only Europe’s largest economy returned to growth in the first three months of the year. The Bank of France has just forecast that the French economy will eke out growth of 0.1 percent in the second quarter.
from Global Investing:
Far from the rules of the dusty old investment almanac, it’s up, up and away in May after all. And judging by the latest batch of economic data, markets may well have had good reason to look beyond the global economic ‘soft patch’ – with US employment, Chinese trade and even German and British industry data all coming in with positive surprises since last Friday. Is QE gaining traction at last?
Well, it's still hard to tell yet in the real economy that continues to disappont overall. But what's certain is that monetary easing is contagious and not about to stop in the foreseeable future - whether there's signs of a growth stabilisation or not. With the Fed, BoJ and BoE still on full throttle and the ECB cutting interest rates again last week, monetary easing is fanning out across the emerging markets too. South Korea was the latest to surprise with a rate cut on Thursday, in part to keep a lid on its won currency after Japan's effective maxi devaluation over the past six months. But Poland too cut rates on Wednesday. And emerging markets, which slipped into the red for the year in February, have at last moved back into the black - even if still far behind year-to-date gains in developed market equities of about 16%!
G7 finance ministers meet London on Friday and Saturday. Since they and many more met in Washington only three weeks ago and not much has changed since, it’s tempting to ask what is the point of this British gathering. There have been mutterings from some of the travelling delegations to that effect.
If there is an angle, it is the unusual focus on financial regulation (usually not part of the Group of Seven’s remit) with some feeling that more than four years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, efforts to put in place structures to prevent similar events spinning out of control in future are flagging. That puts the euro zone’s fluctuating plans for a banking union firmly in focus, which in turn puts German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble right in the spotlight.
from The Great Debate UK:
Modern wars have no clear start and no clear end, leaving politicians free to deny their existence when it suits them and to claim victory even in the face of obvious defeat.
The same seems to be true of currency wars, judging by the reports from the meeting of the world’s finance ministers in Moscow, who, according to the FT, asserted that “central banks should not target their exchange rates, but added that monetary easing which had the side-effect of weakening a country’s currency was allowed”. This is a bit like saying that bombing civilians is OK as long as you’re actually aiming at terrorists – which, come to think of it, is more or less what we do say.
By Edward Hadas
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
The G7 has spoken about the troubled foreign exchange markets, and the world is marginally less secure for it. In Tuesday’s four-sentence statement, the finance ministers and central bankers of the world’s leading economies managed to ignore the problem of inadvertent competitive devaluations, contradict themselves and make an empty promise.
The flurry of activity about a G7 currency statement yesterday can now be put in perspective. It will almost certainly happen but it’s very much going through the motions.
We’ve been saying for a while that having urged it to reflate its economy for some time, Japan’s partners could hardly complain now that it is. Lael Brainard of the U.S. Treasury basically let that cat out of the bag last night, warning against competitive devaluations but saying that Washington supported Tokyo’s efforts to reinvigorate growth and end deflation.
With the rhetoric getting more heated, the three-year market fixation on bond yields could well be supplanted by currencies in the months ahead.
This week, everything points towards the first meeting this year of G20 finance ministers and central bankers in Moscow on Friday and Saturday. We’ve already got a clear steer from sources that even though France wants the strong euro on the agenda there will be little pressure put on Japan and others whose policies are pushing their currencies lower. Having urged Tokyo to reflate its economy last year, its G20 peers can hardly complain now that it has. That is not to say there won’t be lots of words on the issue though.
from Global Investing:
One of the very few positives for the world economy over the second quarter -- or at least for the majority of the world that imports oil -- has been an almost $40 per barrel plunge in the spot price of Brent crude. As the euro zone crisis, yet another soft patch stateside and a worryingly steep slowdown in the BRICs all combined to pull the demand rug from under the energy markets, the traditional stabilising effects of oil returned to the fray. So much so that by the last week in June, the annual drop in oil prices was a whopping 20%. Apart from putting more money in household and business purses by directly lowering fuel bills and eventually the cost of products with high energy inputs, the drop in oil prices should have a significant impact on headline consumer inflation rates that are already falling well below danger rates seen last year. And for central banks around the world desperate to ease monetary policy and print money again to offset the ravages of deleveraging banks, this is a major relief and will amount to a green light for many -- not least the European Central Bank which is now widely expected to cut interest rates again this Thursday.
Of course, disinflation and not deflation is what everyone wants. The latter would disastrous for still highly indebted western economies and would further reinforce comparisons with Japan's 20 year funk. But on the assumption "Helicopter" Ben Bernanke at the U.S. Federal Reserve and his G20 counterparts are still as committed to fighting deflation at all costs, we can assume more easing is the pipeline -- certainly if oil prices continue to oblige. Latest data for May from the OECD give a good aggregate view across major economies. Annual inflation in the OECD area slowed to 2.1% in the year to May 2012, compared with 2.5% in the year to April 2012 – the lowest rate since January 2011. While this was heavily influenced by oil and food price drops, core prices also dipped below 2% to 1.9% in May.
from Global Investing:
Just one look at the whoosh higher in global markets in January and you'd be forgiven smug faith in the hoary old market adage of "Don't fight the Fed" -- or to update the phrase less pithily for the modern, globalised marketplace: "Don't fight the world's central banks". (or "Don't Battle the Banks", maybe?)
In tandem with this month's Federal Reserve forecast of near-zero U.S. official interest rates for the next two years, the European Central Bank provided its banking sector nearly half a trillion euros of cheap 3-year loans in late December (and may do almost as much again on Feb 29). Add to that ongoing bouts of money printing by the Bank of England, Swiss National Bank, Bank of Japan and more than 40 expected acts of monetary easing by central banks around the world in the first half of this year and that's a lot of additional central bank support behind the market rebound. So is betting against this firepower a mug's game? Well, some investors caution against the chance that the Banks are firing duds.