MacroScope

UK growth robust so what’s eating David Cameron?

Britain's Prime Minister Cameron arrives at the European Council headquarters ahead of a EU summit in Brussels

British GDP data are forecast to show healthy growth of 0.7 percent in the third quarter.

Britain’s economy is growing at a strong annual clip of around three percent, a pace most euro zone countries could only dream of. But the government is worried that the currency area’s new malaise could take the shine off things in the run-up to May’s general election.

Then there is the stunningly low level of wage and income growth, lower even than Britain’s sluggish level of inflation. This is a robust recovery but how many Britons are feeling it?

With elections increasingly in mind, the ruling Conservative party would not have been happy about some of the headlines from Day One of an EU summit in Brussels.

Climate change was the main business and Germany’s Angela Merkel said the EU will discuss a bridging loan to Kiev next week so that the country can pay in advance for Russian gas deliveries, as Moscow has demanded in return for turning the taps back on. That will come as a relief as any interruption to winter flows to western Europe, via Ukraine from Russia, would have dealt another blow to already struggling EU economies.

Nearing a gas deal

A pressure meter and gas pipes are pictured at Oparivske gas underground storage in Lviv region

Russian and Ukrainian energy ministers are due to meet European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger in Brussels after presidents Petro Poroshenko and Vladimir Putin said they had agreed on the “basic parameters” of a deal to get gas flowing to Ukraine again this winter.

Russia cut off gas supply to Ukraine in mid-June following more than two years of dispute on the price and said Kiev had to pay off large debts for previously-supplied gas before it would resume supply.

Putin also threatened to cut gas supplies to Europe if Ukraine steals from the transit pipeline to cover its own needs this winter. Any interruption to flows to western Europe, via Ukraine from Russia, would deal another blow to already struggling EU economies.

ECB in the dock

Protestors left some barbed wire in front of the euro sign landmark outside the headquarters of the ECB before its monthly news conference in Frankfurt

The European Court of Justice holds a first hearing on the legality of the European Central Bank’s Outright Monetary Transactions programme. There won’t be anything definitive today but it serves to rekindle debate about the limits of the ECB’s powers.

In February, the German Constitutional Court asked the European Court to rule on the legality of OMT, the mechanism that drew a line under the euro zone crisis when it was unveiled in 2012. The court may give guidance about how best to make a final ruling which is expected in late spring next year.

The scheme has never been deployed because the mere threat of action prompted government borrowing costs to tumble to record lows. Now, the debate is centred on whether the central bank should start printing money to ward off a deflationary downward spiral.

Battle lines drawn

Germany's Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schauble speaks during a discussion during the World Bank/IMF annual meetings in Washington

The predictable battle lines were drawn at the G20/IMF meetings in Washington – most of the world urged Europe to do more to foster growth while Germany warned against letting up on austerity. The argument will doubtless be reprised today when euro zone finance ministers meet in Luxembourg.

Given a ghastly run of German data last week and sharp cuts to its growth forecasts by the IMF and Germany’s economic institutes, Berlin’s stance looks increasingly odd but Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble continued to make it abundantly clear he will not countenance any more public spending in the one European country that could really afford it.

Writing cheques won’t fix Europe, he stated bluntly.

If there was anything new it appeared to be the intensity of the response. This from European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi: “For governments that have fiscal space it makes sense to use it. You decide to which countries this sentence applies.”

Greek confidence vote

A Greek and an EU flag flutter in front of the temple of the Parthenon during the takeover ceremony of the six-month rotation of Greece's EU Presidency in Athens

Greece’s ruling coalition will hold a confidence vote in parliament this evening in an effort to end speculation that the country may be facing snap elections early next year.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras wants to use the vote to gain support for his candidate in a presidential vote. Under Greek law, parliament must be dissolved if a president cannot be elected. The radical leftist Syriza, which has a sizeable lead in opinion polls, has pledged to block Samaras’s pick.

Athens has begun talks with the EU and IMF inspectors on life after its bailout. The coalition is hoping an exit will rally Greeks fed up with years of austerity, but it faces a series of hurdles in pulling that off, including convincing EU/IMF lenders it can finance itself without problems.

A first for British politics

Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP drinks a pint of beer in the Gardeners Arms pub in Heywood near Manchester

By this time tomorrow, the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party is likely to be celebrating its first member of the Westminster parliament. Polls have just opened in the deprived seaside town of Clacton where the sitting Conservative lawmaker switched to UKIP and called a vote.

A second member of the ruling Conservative party has now defected to UKIP and will force another by-election before long leaving the party on tenterhooks over who might be next. Many fear they will lose their seats at the May 2015 general election as UKIP splits their vote.

Could that be enough for them to turn on David Cameron? Maybe not but if they did go for a new leader they would inevitably want someone who was more anti-European with all the implications that would have for a planned referendum on EU membership in 2017.

French budget to fire EU growth debate

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France is unveiling its 2015 budget right now and it’s not making pretty reading, confirming that Paris will not get its budget deficit down to the EU limit of three percent of GDP until 2017, years after it should have done.

The health minister has said the welfare deficit is expected to run nearly one billion euros over budget this year and data on Tuesday showed France’s national debt hit a record high in the second quarter, topping two trillion euros for the first time. It will near 100 percent of GDP next year.

All this is predicated on growth picking up and the proportion of national income going on public spending will fall only glacially.
French President Francois Hollande and Italy’s Matteo Renzi are leading a drive to use the maximum amount of flexibility within EU rules to allow a bit more spending or lower taxes to get growth going – French Finance Minister Michel Sapin has just said the pace of budget consolidation in the euro zone must be adapted to reflect the reality of a stagnant economy.

Euro falling but no impact on inflation yet

Lithuanian 1 euro coins are pictured in the Lithuanian Mint in Vilnius

Euro zone inflation figures are due and after Germany’s rate held steady at 0.8 percent the figure for the currency bloc as a whole could marginally exceed forecasts and hold at 0.4 percent.

One upside for the currency bloc is the falling euro which has broken below its 2013 lows and is down almost nine percent from the peak it hit against the dollar in May. With U.S. money printing about to end next month and speculation intensifying about the timing of a first interest rate rise from Washington, there are good reasons to think that this trend could continue.

If it does, it would push the prices of imports up while making it easier for euro zone countries to sell abroad which should have an upward impact on both growth and inflation. The impact won’t be instant, however, as today’s figures will demonstrate.

After “get in the hole!”, Europe remains in a hole

Team Europe golfers pour champagne over captain Paul McGinley as they celebrate retaining the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles

Who says Europe is broken? The Ryder Cup stays here again and even Nigel Farage, leader of Britain’s anti-EU party, said he wanted Europe’s golfers to win.

The euro zone is not winning the economic competition however, despite the European Central Bank’s best efforts (it should be noted that only 3 of the 12 Ryder Cup team come from euro zone countries).

Prior to the ECB’s monthly policy meeting on Thursday, we get German inflation for September data today.

Britain to join the fray

A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq

The British parliament will vote today on whether UK forces should join U.S.-led air attacks against Islamic State militants. Any action will be confined to Iraq, which has asked for help, not Syria where IS also controls swathes of territory. Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a separate vote on that if it comes to it.

Unlike last year when action to stop Syria’s Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons against his own people was voted down, all the main parties appear to be broadly in support, probably swayed by the beheading of captives by the Sunni militants.

There shouldn’t be much difficulty arguing that the group poses a threat to Britain and its interests. Iraq’s prime minister said overnight that Baghdad had “credible” intelligence that Islamic State militants plan to attack subway systems in Paris and the United States. The attacks, he said, were plotted from inside Iraq.