The Great Debate UK

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Why markets ignore good news from U.S. to focus on bad news from Europe

A trader watches the screen at his terminal on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York

What’s spooking the markets?

One thing we can say for sure is that it is not the slightly weaker-than-expected retail sales that triggered the mayhem on Wall Street on Wednesday morning. Most U.S. economic data have actually been quite strong in the month since Wall Street peaked on Sept. 19.

So to find an economic rationale for the biggest stock-market decline since 2011, we have to consider two other explanations.

The first is the collapse of oil prices, down almost 30 percent since late June in response to Saudi Arabia’s apparent decision to wreck the economics of U.S. shale oil. Falling oil prices are generally beneficial for the world economy -- and for most businesses outside the energy sector.  But investors now fleeing from natural-resource stocks will take time to recycle their money into other industries, such as airlines, retailers and auto manufacturers. Until this rotation happens, broad stock-market indices are dragged down by the plunging oil shares, a process visible almost every day in the past two weeks, especially in the last hour of trading.

A trader watches the screen at his terminal on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New YorkIf falling oil prices were the main causes of the market setback, it would not be a big problem. There is, however, a far more worrying explanation: Europe. Not just the obvious weakness of the European economy, but the inability or unwillingness of European Union policymakers to agree on a sensible response.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Will the European economy’s summer squalls turn into an autumn tempest?

Draghi, President of the European Central Bank (ECB) answers reporter's questions during his monthly news conference at the ECB headquarters in Frankfurt

Following the grim market response to European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s latest monetary policy pronouncements, Europe is approaching another make-or-break moment comparable to the crisis of 2012. The summer quarter ended this week, and financial markets delivered their judgment on just how bad things are, pushing the euro down to its lowest level since September 2012. Europe’s quarterly stock market performance was the worst since the nadir of the euro crisis. The question is whether the miserable summer will give way to a milder autumn. Or whether the summer squalls will turn into a catastrophic tempest.

Given the absence of any decisive action at this week’s European Central Bank meeting, the answer will depend on three events in the month ahead: the Ukrainian elections on Oct. 26; the bank stress tests due to be finalized in late October by the central bank, and the judgment on French and Italian budget plans due to be delivered in outline by Europe’s political leaders at the Milan “growth summit” on Oct. 8 and then in detail by the European Commission at the end of the month.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

What’s Europe’s best hope for avoiding a second euro crisis?

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This week’s theatrical resignation threat by Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, combined with deep European anxiety about deflation, suggest that the euro crisis may be coming back. But a crisis is often an opportunity, and this is the hope now beginning to excite markets in the eurozone.

Investors and business leaders are asking themselves three questions: Will European governments and the European Central Bank recognize the unexpected weakness of the eurozone economy as an opportunity to change course? If they do, will they know how to grasp it? And will they be allowed to do what is necessary by the true economic sovereign of Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel?

An ECB rate cut would be no magic wand

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–Darren Williams is Senior European Economist at AllianceBernstein. The opinions expressed are his own.–

Disappointing April data suggest that the European Central Bank is set to cut the refinancing rate at Thursday’s Council meeting. This is likely to have limited economic impact but could encourage expectations of more creative policy action later, helping to take some upward pressure off the euro.

from The Great Debate:

Europe risks going the way of Japan

(The views expressed by former British prime minister Gordon Brown are the author's own and not those of Reuters)

The good news is that Europe is no longer going the way of Greece. The sad news is that it is threatening to go the way of Japan.

from The Great Debate:

Decisive euro action is needed at the G20 summit

The European crisis is no longer a European crisis. It is now everyone's. Unless Monday’s G20 summit in Mexico coordinates a concerted global action plan right now, we face a global slowdown that will also have a deep impact on the U.S. presidential election and even on China’s transition to a new leadership. This is the last chance.

The standard, but often empty, language of summit communiqués will simply not do when the euro area is finally approaching its own day of reckoning. Whichever way the Greeks vote in Sunday's election, a chaotic exit from the euro is becoming more likely: Its tax revenues are collapsing, not rising as promised. Unable to regain access to markets, Portugal and Ireland will soon have to ask for their second IMF programs. Sadly Italy – and potentially even France – may soon follow Spain in needing finance as the European recession deepens. Even German banks, which are some of the most highly leveraged, are not immune from needing more capital.

from MacroScope:

Can Greek public opinion be turned?

So we’ve got the fresh Greek elections we expected and markets, despite the inevitability that we would get here, have reacted with some alarm. European stocks have shed  around 1 percent, and the harbour of German Bunds is pushing their futures price up in early trade. The Greeks will try to form a caretaker government today to see them through to elections expected on June 17.

The key question is whether the mainstream parties can mount a convincing campaign second time around, playing on the glaring contradiction in SYRIZA’s position (no to bailout, yes to the euro) and essentially turning the vote into a referendum on euro membership, which the overwhelming majority of Greeks still support. Don’t count on that. SYRIZA remains ahead in the polls.
To be able to pull it off, PASOK and New Democracy will need some help from Europe. There have already been hints from Brussels that if a pro-bailout government is formed, Athens could be given some leeway on its debt-cutting terms. But equally other voices are saying there is no more room for manoeuvre.

from Lawrence Summers:

The perils of European incrementalism

By Lawrence H. Summers
The views expressed are his own.

In his celebrated essay “The Stalemate Myth and the Quagmire Machine,” Daniel Ellsberg drew out the lesson regarding the Vietnam War that came out of the 8000 pages of the Pentagon Papers.  It was simply this:  Policymakers acted without illusion.  At every juncture they made the minimum commitments necessary to avoid imminent disaster—offering optimistic rhetoric but never taking steps that even they believed offered the prospect of decisive victory.  They were tragically caught in a kind of no man’s land—unable to reverse a course to which they had committed so much but also unable to generate the political will to take forward steps that gave any realistic prospect of success.  Ultimately, after years of needless suffering, their policy collapsed around them.

Much the same process has played out in Europe over the last two years.  At every stage from the first signs of trouble in Greece to the spread of problems to Portugal and Ireland, to the recognition of Greece’s inability to pay its debts in full, to the rise of debt spreads in Spain and Italy, the authorities have played out the quagmire machine.  They have done just enough beyond euro-orthodoxy to avoid an imminent collapse, but never enough to establish a sound foundation for a resumption of confidence. Perhaps inevitably, the gaps between emergency summits grow shorter and shorter.

from Breakingviews:

The way to end the Greek farce

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

The Greek crisis is fast descending into farce. The position of Germany, the euro zone’s main lender, is increasingly absurd. It is adamant that there will be no restructuring of Greek debt -- at least, until 2013. And yet it is equally insistent that Athens' private-sector creditors should contribute up to 30 billion euros to a new, 120 billion euro bailout. That would effectively amount to a half-cocked restructuring.

A new paradigm for inflation

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-Kathleen Brooks is research director at forex.com. The opinions expressed are her own.-

Looking through the minutes of the Bank of England’s policy meetings for the past year, there are a couple of patterns that you see emerge. Firstly, that rates are on hold, and secondly, that the UK’s elevated inflation rate is temporary. Now the European Central Bank has joined the chorus. ECB President Trichet recently sounded confident that prices will moderate, even though consumer prices rose above the ECB’s target rate of 2 per cent in December.

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