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If it’s true to its word, the European Union will impose sweeping new sanctions on Russia this week, targeting state-owned Russian banks and their ability to finance Moscow's faltering economy.
EU ambassadors will continue discussions on the detail of new measures, most significant of which would be banning European investors from buying new debt or shares of banks owned 50 percent or more by the state.
An embargo on arms sales to Moscow and restrictions on the supply of energy and dual-use technologies is also on the table but it looks like restrictions to supplying technology to Russia will include oil but exclude the gas sector.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy wrote to EU leaders asking them to authorise their ambassadors to complete an agreement by Tuesday. That would avoid the need for leaders to hold a special summit to approve the sanctions.
The EU is slowly tightening the screw on Russia, with senior officials proposing yesterday to target state-owned Russian banks in its most serious sanctions so far. Ambassadorial talks on how precisely that is to be done continue today and the measures are likely to be enacted next week.
One key proposal is that European investors would be banned from buying new debt or shares of banks owned 50 percent or more by the state. These banks raised almost half of their 15.8 billion euro capital needs in EU markets last year. That is a big deal and there are increasing signs of investors turning their back on Russia lock, stock and barrel. However, with its giant FX reserves, the central bank can provide dollars to fund external debt for a considerable period of time.
Interesting intervention from former Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin late yesterday who warned that Russia risked isolation and having its efforts to modernize derailed.
That sort of internal criticism is rare but Kudrin has done so before without censure which suggests Vladimir Putin is – or has been - willing to hear it. Kudrin added that Moscow should not intervene militarily in eastern Ukraine.
EU foreign ministers meet to decide how precisely to deploy sanctions agreed 10 days ago to hit Russian companies that help destabilise Ukraine and to block new loans to Russia through two multilateral lenders.
The EU foreign ministers are tasked with preparing a first list of people and entities from Russia that would be targeted. The number of individuals and companies to be penalized is up for grabs so there is scope to adopt a tougher posture.
EU leaders failed to get anywhere on sharing out the top jobs in Brussels last night but did manage another round of sanctions against Russia.
This time they will target Russian companies that help destabilize Ukraine and will ask the EU's bank, the European Investment Bank, to suspend new lending for Russia and seek a halt to new lending to Russia by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Both Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen have dropped many hints in speeches and public policy statements over the past several months that wage inflation likely will play an important role in any decision to raise interest rates.
The new EU aristocracy will be put in place this week with the European Parliament to confirm Jean-Claude Juncker as the next European Commission President today and then EU leaders gathering for a summit on Wednesday at which they will work out who gets the other top jobs in Brussels.
Although Juncker, who will make a statement to the parliament today which may shed some light on his policy priorities, is supposed to decide the 27 commissioner posts – one for each country – in reality this will be an almighty horse-trading operation.
After the European Central Bank kept alive the prospect of printing money and the U.S. economy enjoyed a bumper month of jobs hiring prompting some to bring forward their expectations for a first U.S. interest rate rise, the Bank of England holds a monthly policy meeting.
There is no chance of a rate rise this time but the UK looks increasingly nailed on to be the first major economy to tighten policy, with the ECB heading in the opposite direction and the U.S. Federal Reserve still unlikely to shift until well into next year. Minutes of the Fed’s last meeting, released yesterday, showed general agreement that its QE programme would end in October but gave little sign that rates will rise before the middle of 2015.
By Edward Hadas
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
Will the new normal for interest rates be lower than the old? It is rapidly becoming conventional wisdom that years of near-zero overnight rates will be succeeded by an indefinite period in which borrowing costs remain low by the standards of the last few decades. The new consensus is reflected in financial markets: the yield on 30-year U.S. Treasury bonds has fallen from 4 percent to 3.4 percent this year. But it is built on unsound foundations.
The European Central Bank holds its monthly policy meeting and after launching a range of new measures in June it’s a racing certainty that nothing will happen this time. However, ECB President Mario Draghi has plenty of scope to move markets and minds in his news conference.
We are still waiting for details of the ECB’s new long-term lending programme which is supposed to be contingent on banks lending the money on to companies and households. Last time they got a splurge of cheap money, the banks largely invested in government bonds and other financial market assets. With euro zone yields now at record lows, the ECB would not like to see a repeat.