MacroScope

El Niño may not give Brazil much to worry about on food prices

File photo of loaded soybean truck for BRAZIL SOY.

Now that Brazilian food prices are finally settling down, it looks like El Niño will strike back in a couple of months to throw the world’s weather into disarray.

Bad news for Brazil’s Finance Minister, Guido Mantega?

Not necessarily.

It could just as easily be a blessing, economists say. The changes in climate patterns caused by warmer Pacific waters could actually be a boon for Brazilian soy and corn producers while not necessarily disrupting other crops.

It is not clear yet if the El Niño phenomenon will happen this year – the odds are high at about 70 percent, according to the U.S. and Australian weather agencies.

But Brazil’s recent streak of bad luck in its fight against inflation has allowed many to question whether another shock might be brewing, just as the country recovered from a dry spell that sent food prices soaring and raised the threat of energy and water rationing.

Indeed, inflation expectations in neighboring Colombia are already going up on El Niño fears, according to a recent Reuters poll.

Evening of reckoning

EU heads of government and state dine in Brussels this evening to discuss their response to a big slap in the face from the bloc’s electorates.

Italy’s Matteo Renzi, who bucked the trend by winning handsomely as an incumbent prime minister, has the wind in his sails and has pledged to change Europe’s focus towards growth and job creation after years of fiscal austerity in response to the euro zone’s debt crisis.

A French official said President Francois Hollande would back Renzi’s call for more pro-growth policies and tell fellow EU leaders that Europe had reached “the alarm level”. Even Germany’s Angela Merkel – the one who really counts – is talking about Europe’s people not caring about treaty change but job security and prosperity.

A negative ECB deposit rate: “What difference would it make?”

A chef slices a portion of greater amberjack while preparing sashimi at the Akasaka Umaya Japanese-style restaurant in TokyoThe European Central Bank will probably cut its deposit rate below zero in a few weeks, charging banks to park money with it.

What is striking is how many analysts and money market traders alike think the net result will be neutral at best.

The trouble is, with few options left and strong hints from the ECB that it is on the verge of action, it is also clear that not cutting the deposit rate would probably do harm by pushing money market rates higher.

Mixed results for right in early voting

The British and Dutch got EU elections underway yesterday and gave only mixed support to the rise of the right.

An exit poll from the Netherlands showed the anti-Islam, Eurosceptic Freedom Party of Geert Wilders’ – which plans to forge an alliance with France’s far-right National Front – had fallen well short of its goal of topping the poll and may even have slumped into fourth place. That would give it three out of the 26 Dutch seats in the EU assembly, down from four in the last elections held in 2009, when it came in second place.

Britain’s anti-EU UKIP seems to be doing much better. There were no indications of how the EU parliamentary vote had gone in Britain, we’ll have to wait for Sunday for that, but parallel local government election results showed a surge in support for the party.
With those results still coming in, Nigel Farage’s party – many call it a one-man band – had secured a net gain of 90 local council seats and was winning well over 20 percent of the vote, mainly at the expense of the ruling Conservatives.

PMIs next signpost for ECB

Following a mixed bag of euro zone GDP data last week which showed Germany charging on and Spain holding its own but France stagnating and Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands slipping back into contraction, flash PMI surveys for the euro zone, Germany and France certainly have the power to jolt the markets today.

As things stand, there seems little to dissuade the European Central Bank from loosening policy next month. Five senior sources told us it was  preparing a package of policy options for its early June meeting, including cuts in all its interest rates and targeted measures aimed at boosting lending to small- and mid-sized firms.

Bundesbank chief Jens Weidman speaks later. He told a German newspaper it was not yet certain that action would be taken in June. The three PMI readings are not expected to move much from April with the French numbers lagging those of the euro zone and Germany.

Elusive China gas deal

Vladimir Putin is well into his second and final day of a trip to China during which he was hoping to sign a long-sought gas deal with Beijing. There’s no sign of white smoke so far and if the Russian president leaves empty handed it would be a serious blow.

Gazprom has repeatedly said negotiations are in their final stages but it seems there has been no agreement yet on price and Moscow may have to lower its sights given the prospect of it losing business in Europe, which has been spooked into considering how to secure its energy needs elsewhere in future, has rather strengthened Beijing’s negotiating hand.

There has been a lot of talk in Russia about a pivot to the east but some analysts say that could never fully compensate for lost business with the West and if the China gas deal which could be worth $400 billion or more does not come to pass the strategy will look hollow. Late on Tuesday, a Putin spokesman said negotiators from both countries have been unable to bridge differences on price.

Putin desperately seeking gas deal

Ukraine seems to be in something of a holding pattern before Sunday’s election though the question of how those polls can be securely conducted in parts of the country where pro-Russian rebels want to secede remains a very live one.

We reported yesterday from Donetsk where officials working to prepare for the May 25 presidential poll described intimidation and threats from separatists which prompted them to shut down their office. The interior minister in Kiev has said it would be impossible to hold “normal elections” in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk which are home to nearly 25 percent of the electorate.

Moscow said yesterday that President Vladimir Putin had ordered Russian forces near Ukraine’s eastern border back to their bases, though NATO and the United States said they saw no sign of a pullback.

Why EU elections can matter

Some interesting action over the weekend: in a foretaste of this week’s EU elections, Greece’s leftist, anti-bailout Syriza party performed strongly in the first round of local elections on Sunday, capitalizing on voter anger at ongoing government austerity policies.

If it did even better in the EU polls it could threaten the ruling coalition and tip Greece back into turmoil just as there are signs that it has turned the corner.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney sounded dramatically more alarmed about Britain’s housing market, saying it posed the biggest risk to the economy and harboured deep structural problems.

France flatlining

We get a flood of EU GDP reports today. Germany’s figure, just out, has marginally exceeded forecasts with quarterly growth of 0.8 percent but France is underperforming again and stagnated in the first three months of the year, missing estimates of 0.2 percent growth.

Robust German growth has been driven largely by domestic demand, which could help its European peers with their exports. Where all that leaves the overall euro zone figure, due later, remains to be seen. The bloc is predicted to have expanded by 0.4 percent.

Spain has already come in with 0.4 percent quarterly growth and others could pick up too so once again France is looking like one of the sicker men of Europe. High debtors Italy and Portugal are expected to eke out at least some growth.

Over to the FPC to direct Britain’s Housing Boom – The Sequel

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has securely parked responsibility for controlling Britain’s booming housing market with the Financial Policy Committee.

While presenting the Bank’s quarterly Inflation Report Carney said the first line of defence against risks from the housing market would be to restrain mortgage lending – something that is in the FPC’s remit – rather than adjusting monetary policy and driving up interest rates.

House prices are expected to rise 8 percent this year according to a Reuters poll this week, not far off the 11 percent average pace seen in the year to April.