MacroScope

A long haul

U.S. Navy handout shows EA-6B Prowler attached to the Garudas of Electronic Attack Squadron 134 landing aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush after conducting strike missions against Islamic State targets, in the Gulf

Having largely sailed through this year’s choppy (to say the least) geopolitical waters, markets are a little discomfited by U.S. air strikes in Syria targeting Islamic State militants … though only a little.

The U.S. military said Monday’s onslaught was just the start, suggesting it could take years to “degrade and destroy” the group, as Washington puts it. It remains to be seen how effective air attacks alone, which have been conducted in Iraq for some time already, will be in that regard.

Many of the potential protagonists will be at the United Nations General Assembly in New York where President Barack Obama will try to rally more nations behind his drive to take on IS.

Largely for domestic political reasons, Britain – usually the first to act in tandem with Washington – has not been involved so far. But with the Scottish referendum out of the way that could change.
Prime Minister David Cameron will meet Iraq’s new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, today. The UK parliament may well be recalled to vote on action. With Iraq asking for help, there is no legal impediment there. But strikes in Syria are a greyer area.

More generally, the beheading of hostages appears to have shifted European opinion which had been firmly opposed to intervention since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Middle East war takes another step

Shi'ite fighters from Mahde Army launch rockets during heavy fighting against Islamic state members at Bo Hassan village, near Tikrit

The United States and some Gulf allies have launched air strikes inside Syria against Islamic State militants.

A combination of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk attack missiles sounds like a formidable barrage so if intelligence about where the militants are is good, a significant blow could have been dealt.

Washington said Saudi Arabia, UAE, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar were involved though their precise role is unclear. It made no mention of European involvement and Britain has said it was not part of it.

Europe looks again to Draghi

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Surprisingly low take-up at last week’s first round of cheap four-year loans by the European Central Bank begs a number of questions – How low is demand for credit and what does that say about the state of the economy? Are banks cowed by the upcoming stress tests? Does this make an eventual leap to QE more likely?

The ECB is playing up the prospects of a second round in December after the stress tests are finished. But having pledged to add the best part of 1 trillion euros to its balance sheet to rev up the euro zone economy, it can’t have been happy to see only 83 billion euros of loans taken. ECB President Mario Draghi testifies at the European Parliament today.

After narrowly winning a confidence vote in the National Assembly in a manner that doesn’t exactly give him momentum, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls travels to Germany to compare notes on economic reform.

Not really that close

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond speaks at the "Yes" Campaign headquarters in Edinburgh, Scotland

So what was all the fuss about?

A first rough draft of history would suggest the one opinion poll that gave the independents a lead nearly two weeks ago scared the Bejesus not only out of the British establishment but a significant chunk of Scottish voters too.

Prime Minister David Cameron has addressed the nation, promising to deliver new powers to Edinburgh to a very tight timetable, drafting laws in January in order to have it done after the 2015 general election.

He also promised more devolution for Northern Ireland, Wales and England, which is tantamount to a fiendishly complicated constitutional overhaul. It is not clear that the opposition Labour party is on the same page.

Swedish shift

Opposition leader Stefan Lofven speaks at the election night party of the Social Democrats in Stockholm

Sweden’s centre-left Social Democrats topped the poll in Sunday’s election but fell well short of an overall majority to the extent that it will struggle to form a strong coalition.

The Social Democrats and the Greens and hard Left, who would be natural coalition allies, garnered 43.7 percent of the vote. The anti-immigrant far right emerged as the third biggest party to hold the balance of power with nearly 13 percent.

It looks like there will be plenty of time for market jitters before a government is formed.
What looks more certain is the ousting of the centre-right means years of falling taxes and liberal economic reforms may come to a juddering halt.

All to play for

A "No" campaign poster is seen in a field after being vandalised by a "Yes" supporter on the outskirts of Edinburgh

The latest Scottish opinion poll puts the unionist camp ahead by 52 points to 48 – still way too close to call given the statistical margin for error.

The last two polls have given the “No” campaign clinging to a narrow lead following a dramatic narrowing of the gap and one survey giving the separatists a lead. So has the “Yes” momentum stalled? If you chart the numbers over the past two weeks you might think so but if you did so over the past two months you would say emphatically not.

YouGov, purveyors of the latest poll, noted that on their figures the “No” camp has gained ground for the first time since early August. The last two surveys were the first to have been conducted since it became clear that the nationalist vote was on the charge. Has that concentrated minds? Who knows.

Too close to call

Cakes are seen at a tea-party organised by members of the group 'English Scots for YES' near Berwick-upon-Tweed on the border between England and Scotland

A second opinion poll in three days has put the Scottish independence vote as too close to call.

TNS gave the “No” vote 39 percent  support and “Yes” 38. Its last poll in late July gave the “No” campaign a 13-point lead. Taking only those who are certain to vote, the two camps are tied at 41 percent.

The figures look different to YouGov’s weekend poll which sent a jolt through London and Scotland. It gave the secessionists a 51-49 lead but the direction of travel is clear and with only nine days to that could be decisive.

Will the guns fall silent?

A Ukrainian serviceman smokes as he sits on an armoured vehicle near Kramatorsk

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and the main pro-Russian rebel leader said they would both order ceasefires on Friday, provided that an agreement is signed on a new peace plan to end the five month war in Ukraine’s east.

Talks are due to resume in the Belarussian capital Minsk. On Wednesday, following a string of aggressive statements in previous days, Vladimir Putin put forward a seven-point peace plan, which would end the fighting in Ukraine’s east while leaving rebels in control of territory.

Poroshenko expressed “cautious optimism” about the Minsk talks but given the rebels have advanced rapidly across eastern Ukraine in the past week, backed by what Kiev and NATO say is the support of thousands of Russian troops with artillery and tanks, the balance of interests in calling hostilities off has shifted.

What’s it all about, Mario?

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It’s ECB day and after Mario Draghi’s recent dramatic utterances, expectation for fresh action has grown, expectations which are likely largely to be dashed.

Draghi told the world’s central banking elite in Jackson Hole last month that market inflation expectations were falling markedly and the European Central Bank would use everything in its power to stabilize them in order to avoid a deflationary spiral. He also ripped up central banking orthodoxy by calling for more fiscal spending by governments at the same time as redoubling economic reform efforts. How to read that?

Two possibilities spring to mind. Either Draghi (who has talked with a number of EU leaders recently) thinks he can secure fresh a  commitment on structural reform and can use that to go back to his ECB colleagues to argue they should cross the ultimate Rubicon and start printing money in return.

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.