MacroScope

A tale of two budgets

 

It’s deadline day for euro zone member states to submit their 2014 budget plans to the European Commission for inspection and we’re waiting on Italy and Ireland.

Having survived Silvio Berlusconi’s attempt to pull the government down, Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s coalition has to overcome differences on tax and spending policy.
The aim is to agree a 2014 budget that reduces labour taxes by some 5 billion euros but also undercuts the EU’s 3 percent of GDP deficit limit, so spending cuts will be required.

Rome has a chequered track record in that regard. The cabinet will meet at 1500 GMT to try and agree a comprehensive package. A Treasury source said the scale of tax cuts would be dictated by how much the various government ministries are prepared to forego.

The better news is that a modest return to growth is expected next year and borrowing costs remain low by the standards of 2011 and 2012.

Ireland is on course to exit its bailout programme by mid-December and may even eschew a financial backstop from the EU to help it make the transition. But that does not mean its problems are over. It needs growth to pick up markedly to bear down on debt while its banks are still beset with bad property loans. We already know Finance Minister Michael Noonan expects growth to accelerate to 1.8 percent in 2014 from 0.2 percent this year, which will help to bring the budget gap down to 4.8 percent of GDP.

Of euro budgets and banks

Euro zone finance ministers meet today and will have one eye on budgetary matters given a Tuesday deadline for member states to send their draft budgets to the European Commission for inspection, and with protracted German coalition talks keeping other meaningful euro zone reform measures on hold.

Most draft budgets are in but we’re still waiting on Italy and Ireland. Dublin will unveil its programme on deadline day. Italy’s situation is more fluid so we may get something today.

Over the weekend, Dublin said it may quit its bailout by the year-end without any backstop in the form of a precautionary credit line. That would rule it out for ECB bond-buying support, which it probably also doesn’t need. But it needs at least the 1.8 percent growth forecast for next year to keep bearing down on debt.

Greek turning point?

Greece will unveil its draft 2014 budget plan which is expected to forecast an end to six years of recession.

The draft will include key forecasts on unemployment, public debt and the size of the primary surplus Athens will aim for to show it is turning the corner. The government has said any further fiscal belt-tightening will not bring cuts in wages and pensions and that savings will be generated from structural measures.

If even Greece has passed the worst then maybe the euro zone crisis really is on the wane. The FT reports that billionaire John Paulson and a number of other U.S. hedge funds are investing aggressively in Greece’s banking sector, expecting it to get off its knees – an interesting straw in the wind.

Economic damage from the shutdown? Small to start, say forecasters

The U.S. government shutdown probably won’t hit the economy too hard, say economists. Some point to the fact the shutdown has come right at the start of the fourth quarter, meaning there’s time before the year’s out for the economy to recoup some of  lost output resulting from the downtime. But, the longer it goes on, the worse it will be.

And there is always that debt-ceiling tail risk – the worst-case scenario being that the U.S. Treasury will default on one or more of its obligations. A Reuters poll on Monday put that risk at less than 10 percent.

Here’s a selection of comments from economists on the impact of the shutdown:

France on a budget

The French 2014 budget will be presented in full today with the government seeking to reassure voters with a plan that makes the bulk of savings through curbs in spending, having relied more heavily on tax increases so far.

The government has already said it expects 2014 growth to come in at a modest 0.9 percent, cutting its previous 1.2 percent prediction, and that after a 2013 which is likely to boast hardly any growth at all.

As a result, the budget deficit is expected to push up to a revised 3.6 percent of GDP from 2.9 next year. That puts Paris in line with IMF and European Commission forecasts but what Brussels thinks about the plan as a whole is another matter.

Curious timing for Fed self-doubt on monetary policy

If there was ever a time to be worried about whether the Federal Reserve’s bond-buying stimulus is having a positive effect on the economy, the last few months were probably not it. Everyone expected government spending cuts and tax increases to push the economic recovery off the proverbial cliff, while the outlook for overseas economies has very quickly gone from rosy to flashing red. But the American expansion has remained the fastest-moving among industrialized laggards, with second quarter gross domestic product revised up sharply to 2.5 percent.

Yet for some reason, at the highest levels of the U.S. central bank and in its most dovish nooks, the notion that asset purchases might not be having as great an impact as previously thought has become pervasive.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s 2012 Jackson Hole speech, made just a month before the Fed launched a third round of monetary easing, made a strong, detailed case for how well the policy was working.

Portugal crisis to test ECB´s strategy

Portuguese bond yields surged to more than 8 percent as a government crisis prompted investors to shun the bailed-out country, raising concerns about another flare-up in the euro zone debt saga.

The resignation this week of two key ministers, including Finance Minister Vitor Gaspar who was the architect of its austerity drive, tipped Portugal into a turmoil that could derail its plan to exit its bailout next year.

Portuguese bond yields surged to levels near which it was forced to seek international aid two years ago. The sell-off spread to Italian and Spanish debt markets, but was not as pronounced there.

Is Congress the ‘enabler’ of a loose Fed?

We heard it more than once at today’s hearing of the Joint Economic Committee featuring Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke: the central bank’s low interest rate policies are allowing Congress to delay tough decisions on long-term spending.

As U.S. senator Dan Coats asked pointedly: “Is the Fed being an enabler for an addiction Congress can’t overcome?”

Yet, if you read the subtext of Bernanke’s testimony closely, it may actually be Congress that is enabling a loose Federal Reserve.

There is no sovereign debt crisis in Europe

Evidence that Europe’s austerity policies are not working was in ample supply this morning. The euro zone as a whole is now in its longest recession since the start of monetary union. France has succumbed to the region’s retrenchment. Italy’s GDP slump is now the lengthiest on record. And Greece, still in depression, shrank another 5.3 percent in the first quarter.

To understand why this is happening, Brown University professor Mark Blyth says it is necessary to forget everything you think you know about the euro zone crisis. The monetary union’s troubles are not, as often depicted, the result of runaway spending by bloated, profligate states that are finally being forced to pay the piper. Instead, argues Blyth, it is merely a sequel to the U.S. financial meltdown that started, like its American counterpart, with dangerously-indebted risk-taking on the part of a super-sized banking sector.

In a new book entitled “Austerity: The history of a dangerous idea,” Blythe writes that sovereign budgets have come under strain primarily because taxpayers of various nations have been forced to shoulder the burden of failed banking systems.

Rose-tinted forecasting still in vogue for Britain’s independent budget watchdog

Britain’s independent Office for Budget Responsibility slashed its growth forecasts for this year ahead of George Osborne’s Budget on Wednesday. But looking longer-term, it now has the unusual distinction of being more optimistic about Britain’s long-term economic health than the Bank of England, often pilloried for its rose-tinted views.

And rightly so. The Bank’s famed GDP fan charts have been exceptionally over-optimistic. Until recently, it routinely suggested the economy was more likely to grow more than 5 percent annually than contract even slightly, which was plainly absurd.

In its short life, the OBR too has had its fair share of forecasting blunders. Created with the arrival of the coalition government in 2010, that June it predicted 2012 GDP growth of 2.8 percent. In Wednesday’s report, it estimated the economy instead grew 0.2 percent last year.