Reuters blog archive
from Nicholas Wapshott:
The elaborate gavotte between the American and European economies continues.
While the Federal Reserve has begun to wind down its controversial quantitative easing (QE) program, the European Central Bank (ECB) the federal reserve of the eurozone, has announced it is considering a QE program of its own.
It is a belated acknowledgement, if not an outright admission, from Mario Draghi, president of the ECB, that five years of the European Union’s austerity policy has failed to lift the eurozone nations out of the economic mire. The ECB has presided over a wholly unnecessary triple-dip recession in the eurozone and sparked a bitter rift between the German-dominated European Union bureaucracy and the Mediterranean nations that must endure the rigors imposed from Brussels. All to little avail.
If there are any “austerians” left standing, let them explain this. Ignoring the cries of the unemployed and those pressing for urgent measures to promote growth in Europe, the ECB blithely imposed its punishing creed, arguing that there would be no gain without pain. The result? Little gain, endless pain.
The eurozone economy endured growth at a miserable 0.2 percent year-on-year in the last quarter of 2013 (after an 18-month-long eurozone recession). Unemployment is at a wretched 11.9 percent. The eurozone is suffering from chronic “lowflation,” with inflation at an annual 0.5 percent, heading toward perhaps the most destructive economic condition of all -- deflation.
ECB Vice-President Vitor Constancio testifies to the European Parliament prior to attending the IMF Spring meeting in Washington at the back end of the week along with Mario Draghi and other colleagues. Jens Weidmann, Yves Mersch and Ewald Nowotny also speak today.
There has undoubtedly been a change in tone from the ECB, which is now openly talking about printing money if inflation stays too low for too long (no mention of deflation being the required trigger any more). Even Bundesbank chief Weidmann has done so.
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 financial forecasters to the International Monetary Fund, calls for the European Central Bank to do more to support the euro zone recovery are growing louder.
With inflation well below the ECB’s 2 percent target ceiling and continuing to fall, 20 of 53 economists in a Reuters Poll conducted last week said the bank was wrong to leave policy unchanged at recent meetings and should do more when it meets on Thursday.
After two days in The Hague, Barack Obama moves on to Brussels for an EU/U.S. summit with Ukraine still casting the longest shadow.
Europe’s energy dependence on Russia is likely to top the agenda with the EU pressing for U.S. help in that regard while the standoff with Russia could give new impetus to talks over the world’s largest free trade deal.
from Global Investing:
Congratulations to Bank of Spain, which won the best central bank website of the year award given by Central Banking Publications, as the specialist news provider for central bankers hosted its inaugural central banking awards last night in London. (The flagship Central Banker of the Year award was won by ECB's Draghi, no surprise there)
Central banks around the world are looking for ways to improve their communication strategies and the website is one area they are focusing on (Quantity is not everything, yet the Bank of Spain's website features 7,000 pages of information and 24,700 separate files).
The European Union, as we exclusively reported yesterday, has agreed on a framework for sanctions against Russia, including travel restrictions and asset freezes, which goes further than many expected. The list of targeted individuals is still being worked on but will be ready for the bloc’s foreign ministers to look at on Monday.
Angela Merkel will speak to the German Bundestag about the standoff with Russia. Merkel has been cautious about imposing anything too tough as she tries to convince Vladimir Putin to agree to a "contact group" that would reopen communications between Moscow and Kiev. But yesterday she said measures would be imposed next week – after a Crimean referendum on joining Russia which the West says is illegal - unless diplomatic progress is made.
Is it war if no shots have been fired? The Ukrainians say so but Moscow, its grip on Crimea now pretty much complete, says it is merely protecting its people. The rest of the world and its financial markets watch on very uneasily.
There is virtually no chance of any western military response after Vladimir Putin declared he had the right to invade his neighbour – NATO expressed "grave concern" but did not come up with any significant measures to apply pressure on. But there will be a diplomatic and economic price to pay.
To most people, the idea of falling prices sounds like a good thing. But it poses serious economic and financial risks - just ask the Japanese, who only now finally have the upper hand in a 20-year battle to drag their economy out of deflation.
That front is shifting westward, to the euro zone.
Deflation tempts consumers to postpone spending and businesses to delay investment because they expect prices to be lower in the future. This slows growth and puts upward pressure on unemployment. It also increases the real debt burden of debtors, from consumers to companies to governments.
Euro zone policymakers like to talk. They often contradict each other at separate speaking engagements on the same day. But they have struck a chorus in recent weeks, asserting that deflation is not a threat.
Members of the ECB Governing Council have been particularly vocal, insisting they will not have to alter policy to counter falling prices.