Reuters blog archive
After a local election drubbing, French President Francois Hollande duly sacked his prime minister last night and tempered his economic reform drive, vowing to focus more on growth and “social justice”. A fuller cabinet reshuffle is expected today.
Interior minister Manuel Valls, anything but a left-wing firebrand whose appointment could stir unrest on the left of the ruling Socialist party, takes the premiership with a mandate to pursue cuts in labour charges for business but also tax cuts to boost consumer spending and employment.
Hollande said France would still cut public spending to pay for a 30 billion euro reduction in labour charges on business, part of a "responsibility pact" with employers he launched in January. But he said Sunday's elections also showed the need for a "solidarity pact" offering workers tax cuts and assurances on welfare, youth training and education.
Brussels would have to cut it some slack with its budget deficit, he said. Paris has already been given until the end of 2015 to bring the deficit below the EU limit of 3 percent of GDP. Data released on Monday showed the deficit stood at 4.3 percent in 2013, higher than the government's 4.1 percent target.
Ukraine continues to top the European worry list.
Monday demonstrated how quickly the financial side of the equation can spiral out of control. The hryvnia currency slumped and the cost of insuring against Ukrainian default soared, forcing the central bank to intervene and urge its citizens not to spark a bank run.
Having turned its back on the EU, Kiev must find more than $17 billion next year to meet gas bills and debt repayments. Presumably Russia will have to help out if it is not to have a basket case on its doorstep.
The Bank of France's monthly report forecasts growth of 0.4 percent in the last three months of the year, up from an anaemic 0.1 percent in the third quarter. That still makes for a fairly doleful 2013 as a whole.
France is zooming up the euro zone’s worry list, largely because of its timid approach to labour and pension reforms. Spain has been much more aggressive and is seeing the benefits in terms of rising exports (and, admittedly, sky-high unemployment). So too has Portugal.
First quarter UK GDP figures will show whether Britain has succumbed to an unprecedented “triple dip” recession. Economically, the difference between 0.2 percent growth or contraction doesn’t amount to much, and the first GDP reading is nearly always revised at a later date. But politically it’s huge.
Finance minister George Osborne has already suffered the ignominy of downgrades by two ratings agencies – something he once vowed would not happen on his watch. And even more uncomfortably, he is looking increasingly isolated as the flag bearer for austerity. The IMF is urging a change of tack (and will deliver its annual report on the UK soon) and even euro zone policymakers are starting to talk that talk. It was very much the consensus at last week’s G20 meeting.
The big euro zone development over the weekend was the re-election of ageing Italian President Giorgio Napolitano for a second term. The presumption is that to put himself through this again he must have got pretty serious expressions of intent from the warring political parties that they will strive for some form of grand coalition. That may have been made easier by the resignation of centre-left leader Bersani who was in danger of splitting his own caucus.
If that comes to pass it should push back the timing of fresh elections until next year at least, a welcome turn for markets which feared a new poll could result in an even more fractured outcome and put more power in the hands of the anti-establishment Five Star movement. All that means we should see a significant rally in Italian assets today. That should also benefit other peripheral euro zone bonds. Safe haven German Bund futures have already dipped at the open, Italian bond futures have leapt almost a full point and European stock futures are pointing upwards.
from Chrystia Freeland:
Spending time with top European policymakers at the moment is scary and slightly nauseating, like the final, slow-motion moments before a car accident, when you can see precisely both how you will probably crash and what it would take, if only you could force your paralyzed muscles into action, to swerve to safety.
That’s why Christine Lagarde, the formidable French chief of the International Monetary Fund, told me this week that she wants to lock Europe’s dithering leaders in a room and leave them there until they figure things out.
from Financial Regulatory Forum:
BRUSSELS, Feb 16 (Reuters) - Banks in the European Union won't face a ban on proprietary trading, the bloc's executive body said on Tuesday, but warned the sector to check its ethics.
Securitised products and derivatives, two areas where banks have raked in revenues over the years, will also come under closer EU scrutiny, officials said.
from MacroScope:Olli Rehn likens himself to Carrie Bradshaw, the lead character in television show Sex and the City, and thinks his small hometown in Finland is the centre of the world.
"I'd be Carrie, I guess, since I like to write," he told the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat when asked about which character in the show he most resembles.
In the TV series, the promiscuous Bradshaw searched for true love and its meaning in the contemporary world in her newspaper column.
from Financial Regulatory Forum:
By John O'Donnell
BRUSSELS, Jan 14 (Reuters) - One of the European Union's top lawmakers has said she may demand a second hearing to quiz the bloc's designated tax and economics chiefs before the committee she leads decides whether to approve their appointments.
The remarks by Sharon Bowles, who leads the influential economic and monetary affairs committee, cast uncertainty over the line-up of the next European Commission, in particular the would-be tax chief, who has already faced criticism.
The EU show is back on the road. Sixteen months after Irish voters brought the European Union's tortured process of institutional reform to a juddering halt by voting "No" to the Lisbon treaty, the same electorate has turned out in larger numbers to say "Yes" by a two-thirds majority.
This is an immense relief for the EU's leadership. After three lost referendums in France, the Netherlands and Ireland, and a record low turnout in this year's European Parliament elections, the democratic legitimacy of the European integration process was increasingly open to question. The Irish vote will not completely silence those doubts. Opponents are already accusing the EU of have bullied the Irish into voting again on the same text, and of blackmailing them with economic disaster if they did not vote the right way this time.