MacroScope

It’s all Greek

The EU/IMF/ECB troika is due to return to Athens to resume a review of Greece’s bailout after some sparring over budget measures.

Greece’s president and prime minister have said they will not impose any further austerity measures and hope that their ability to run a primary surplus will persuade its lenders to cut it some more slack on its bailout loans to make its debt sustainable. The EU and IMF say there will be a fiscal gap next year that must be filled by domestic measures, be they further wage and pension cuts or tax increases.

We had a round of brinkmanship last week with EU officials saying they weren’t going to turn up because Athens had not come up with plausible ways to fill a 2 billion euros hole in its 2014 budget. But on Saturday, the European Commission said the review was back on after the Greek government came up with fresh proposals.

The bottom line is that after Angela Merkel decided once and for all last year that Greece should not be allowed to fall out of the euro zone, this will be sorted one way or another.

However, reform is never easy in Greece – viz Sunday’s protest against a relaxation of Sunday shopping rules – and the coalition government has a wafer thin majority. To focus minds, Greek workers will hold a 24-hour strike this week to protest against austerity measures and public sector layoffs demanded by the country’s international lenders.

Shock low euro zone inflation – what the economists say

The slump in euro zone inflation to 0.7 percent in October was a big shock – that figure undercut even the lowest forecast from 42 analysts polled by Reuters.

Here’s what they had to say about what it means.

Generally, they were agreed that such low inflation ratchets up the pressure on the ECB to ease policy further, although some said that October figure probably represents the trough for inflation.

Ben May, European economist, Capital Economics

“The latest euro-zone inflation and unemployment figures will increase pressure on the ECB to take further action to support the economy. Meanwhile, euro-zone unemployment rose by 60,000 in September and falls in the previous months were revised away. Given this, the unemployment rate was 12.2%, unchanged from August’s upwardly revised figure. The latest figures put a dent in hopes that the labour market may have reached a turning point.

A question of liquidity

The Federal Reserve’s decision to keep printing dollars at an unchanged rate, mirrored by the Bank of Japan sticking with its massive stimulus programme, should have surprised nobody.

But markets seem marginally discomfited, interpreting the Fed’s statement as sounding a little less alarmed about the state of the U.S. recovery than some had expected and maybe hastening Taper Day. European stocks are expected to pull back from a five-year high but this is really the financial equivalent of “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin”. The Fed’s message was little changed bar removing a reference to tighter financing conditions.

However, the top central banks have sent a signal that they think all is not yet well with the world – the Fed, BOJ, European Central Bank, Bank of England, Bank of Canada and Swiss National Bank have just announced they will make permanent their array of currency swap arrangements to provide a “prudent liquidity backstop” indefinitely.

Italy versus Spain

Italy will auction up to 6 billion euros of five- and 10-year bonds after two earlier sales this week saw two-year and six-month yields drop to the lowest level in six months. Don’t be lulled into thinking all is well.

After Silvio Berlusconi’s failure to pull down the government, Prime Minister Enrico Letta has some time to push through economic reforms, cut taxes and spending. But already the politics look difficult and the central bank said yesterday that government forecasts for 1.1 percent growth next year and falling borrowing costs were overly optimistic.

Bank of Italy Governor Ignazio Visco and Economy Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni will speak during the day.

Beware the bias in euro zone forecasts (again)

Next time you ask an economist a question about the euro zone, be sure to enquire where their head office is based.

London? New York? Expect a pessimistic response on euro zone matters.

Frankfurt? Paris? Happier days are coming soon for the currency union.

So that’s oversimplifying matters slightly – but as we’ve seen time over, institutions based outside the euro zone are likely to be gloomier about its prospects, and those based inside it are more likely to look on the bright side.

That pattern was clear to see in this week’s Reuters poll on the euro zone’s vulnerable quartet – Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain.

Forward guidance not banking on Scottish independence

There are many unknowns surrounding a Scottish vote in favour of independence at next year’s referendum, a potentially huge event for the British economy. But one that has attracted little attention is what it would mean for UK interest rates.

As part of its forward guidance policy, the Bank of England has promised that it will not consider raising rates from record-low levels until unemployment in the UK – 7.69 percent at the most recent reading – falls to 7 percent. It expects this to happen in late 2016, though some investors think the jobless rate could fall much quicker.

The question is, what would happen to Britain’s unemployment, and consequently interest rates, if Scotland decided to leave the UK? Recent data suggest it would take longer for unemployment to hit the Bank’s threshold and prolong the era of cheap money.

Spanish sums

Spanish third quarter GDP figures tomorrow are likely to confirm the Bank of Spain’s prediction that the euro zone’s fourth largest economy has finally put nine quarters of contraction behind it, albeit with growth of just 0.1 percent.

Today, we get some appetizers that show just how far an economy with unemployment in excess of 25 percent has to go. Spanish retail sales, just out, have fallen every month for 39 months after posting a 2.2 percent year-on-year fall in September, showing domestic demand remains deeply depressed. All the progress so far has come on the export side of the balance sheet.

Spain’s public deficit figures, not including local governments and town halls, are also on the block. The deficit was 4.52 percent of GDP in the year to July and the government, which is aiming for a 6.5 percent year-end target, says it is on track.

Romer, taking aim at Fed, advocates ‘regime change’ and a shift to nominal GDP

By Alister Bull

photo

Christina Romer, former chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers and a strong advocate for Janet Yellen to take over from Ben Bernanke as the next chair of the Federal Reserve, slammed the Fed in a lecture last week that accused the U.S. central bank of being too meek and of fighting the wrong battle by being fixated on asset bubbles.

Romer, sometimes touted as a potential candidate to fill one of the 3 vacancies on the Fed’s Board in Washington, or maybe run a regional branch (Cleveland has an opening), also discussed deliberately aiming for 3 or 4 percent inflation, as well as targeting nominal GDP.

One key observation from her remarks was central banks must tackle financial instability head-on. The Greenspan-era disdain for using monetary policy to burst asset bubbles has become a luxury which the post-crisis world can no longer afford:

As Brazil reopens gates to capital inflows, foreign bond purchases jump

Despite all the market talk about Brazil’s frustrating performance over the past few years, Latin America’s largest economy remains a top destination for global funds in at least one area: fixed income markets.

Foreign purchases of local debt have jumped since June, when Brazil, shaken by prospects of higher market interest rates in the United States, scrapped a key tax on foreign investments in local bonds.

Monthly inflows to local bonds and other fixed-income instruments traded onshore soared to an average of $6 billion between June and September, from just $0.8 billion in the first five months of the year, according to the chart below based on central bank data released on Friday:

The Italian Job

Italy has dropped out of the spotlight a little following the protracted political soap opera surrounding Silvio Berlusconi. But it remains perhaps the euro zone’s most dangerous flashpoint.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta now has some time to push through economic reforms, cut taxes and spending in an effort to galvanize activity. But already the politics look difficult.

Italy’s three main unions are to strike over the government’s 2014 budget plan. Former premier Mario Monti resigned as head of his centrist party after it supported the budget which he viewed as way too modest, lacking in meaningful tax cuts and deregulation.