MacroScope

Over to Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama walks towards Air Force One before departing for Estonia while at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington

Barack Obama is in Estonia before the NATO summit in Wales intending to pressure Vladimir Putin to back off in Ukraine. The rhetoric will be strong – not least about protecting the Baltics under NATO’s umbrella.

But with zero chance of western military action in Ukraine the hope is that economic pain via sanctions will bring Moscow to heel. Existing sanctions are clearly hurting the economy – the rouble has plumbed record lows as capital flees or shuns the country – but that hasn’t stopped Putin so far.

He seems intent not on taking Ukraine over but keeping the rebels sufficiently well armed and supported to keep Kiev off balance and unstable. If that is the intention it has certainly succeeded.

Western countries accuse Moscow of sending armoured columns of troops into Ukraine, where the momentum in a five-month war shifted last week in favour of pro-Russian rebels. They were virtually on their knees but are now resurgent and said last night they were on the point of retaking the strategically important Donetsk airport.

Putin’s spokesman has just said the Russian president has spoken to his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko by telephone and the two leaders largely agreed on what needs to be done to resolve the crisis. No further details were forthcoming.

from Global Investing:

Can Eastern Europe “sweat” it?

Interesting to see that Poland wants to squeeze out more income from its state-owned enterprise (SOE) sector in the face of slowing economic growth and financing pressures.

Warsaw wants to double next year's dividends from stakes in firms ranging from copper mines to utility providers to banks.

Fellow euro zone aspirant Lithuania has also embarked on reforms aimed at increasing dividends sixfold from what UBS has dubbed "the forgotten side of the government balance sheet". It wants to emulate countries such as Sweden and Singapore where such companies are managed at arm's length from the state and run along strict corporate standards to consistently grow profits.

Lack of debt Estonia’s undoing?

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Low public debt would usually be a good thing, but it might throw a spanner in the works of Estonia‘s quest to join the euro zone.

The small Baltic country has a stable currency, its deficits and inflation meet European Union rules, and its top policymakers exude confidence the country will adopt the euro next year.

But with government debt below 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), Estonia has not needed to issue a benchmark bond — a government bond issued in Estonian kroons for at least 10 years — which it could use to show it has low and stable interest rates, one criteria for euro candidates.

from Global Investing:

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week:

VOLATILITY
- World stocks' near-50 percent gain since early March may be levelling off -- investors have factored in much of the output recovery that is in the pipeline and fresh impetus could be needed from further improvements in economic indicators or the corporate outlook. With many fund managers yet to wade in with the cash piles on which they have been sitting, a bout of volatility looks more likely than a dramatic pullback.

GROUP OF 8
- Talk of green shoots of economic recovery has removed some of the threat of global economic meltdown and therefore reduced the pressure to come up with coordinated international policy response. The Lecce finance ministers' meeting will test G8 nations' commitment to putting up extra money for the IMF and an SDR allocation increase. The risk is that cracks appear on these and other issues (eg QE, fiscal stimulus, etc). Given expanded IMF resourcing was one of the planks on which the equity market/emerging market rebound was built, any signs of pullback could fuel volatility and throw up risks for the assets which have benefited most from that rally.

DOLLAR STANCE
- Asian reserve managers' reassurance on Treasuries holdings came in the same week as rumblings of discomfort from some emerging market countries (eg South Africa, Israel) on the dollar's slide and its fallout. Soothing noises from Asia about their dollar-denominated holdings and its FX impact risk being cancelled out by the chatter about international reserve currencies building in the run-up to the first BRIC summit later in June.

from Global Investing:

EBRD to puzzle over E.Europe crisis

Ministers and bankers meeting at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development's annual gathering in London tomorrow and Saturday have a sorry mess to scrutinise.

By the bank's own (revised) forecasts, its region of central and eastern Europe will contract by over 5 percent this year. Many countries in eastern Europe took too much advantage of western banks' lending spree, and businesses and households are struggling to pay back foreign currency loans.

Falling commodity prices have hit countries like Russia and Kazakhstan, and a burst consumer credit bubble is risking double-digit contraction in the Baltic states and Ukraine.