MacroScope

ECB – stick or twist?

 

The European Central Bank meets today with emerging market disorder high on its agenda.

It’s probably  too early to force a policy move – particularly since the next set of ECB economic and inflation forecasts are due in March – but it’s an unwelcome development at a time when inflation is already uncomfortably low, dropping further to just 0.7 percent in January, way below the ECB’s target of close to but below two percent.

If the market turbulence persists and a by-product is to drive the euro higher, which is quite possible, the downward pressure on prices could threaten a deflationary spiral which ECB policymakers have so far insisted will not come to pass.

But what to do? A small interest rate cut from 0.25 percent to somewhere just above zero is hardly going to be a game changer and the ECB has already said it won’t prime banks with long-term cheap money again unless they commit to lend into the real economy.

With stress tests looming and those same banks being told to deleverage and build up capital that is anything but straightforward though given the downward pressure the bank tests are likely to exert on lending there is certainly a case for an LTRO if banks do commit to pass the money on to businesses.

UK recovery, can you feel it?

Third quarter UK GDP data are likely to show robust growth – 0.8 percent or more, following 0.7 percent in Q2 – more kudos to a resurgent finance minister George Osborne who only a year ago was buried in brickbats.

We can argue about the austerity versus growth debate ‘til the cows come home – there is still a strong case that if the government hadn’t cut so sharply, growth would have returned earlier and debt would have fallen faster. But the fact that the economy is ticking along nicely 18 months before the next election means Osborne has won the argument politically.

And yet, and yet. The opposition Labour party has been nimble in switching its criticism from the government’s debt-cutting strategy to the fact that the economy might be recovering but the vast majority of Britons aren’t feeling it.

Can we have a German government please?

Angela Merkel’s CDU and the centre-left SPD have agreed to begin formal coalition talks conditional on securing support from a meeting of 200 senior SPD members scheduled for Sunday. The party is scarred by its experience of coalition in the last decade, when its support slumped, but it’s probably the lesser of two evils since a new vote would be quite likely to increase Merkel’s support. She only just missed out on a rare overall majority first time around.

Assuming Sunday’s vote gives assent, talks proper will start on Wednesday. Hold your horses though. An entire policy slate will have to be thrashed out so the betting is an administration won’t be in place until late November at the earliest. In the meantime, euro zone policy negotiations are pretty much on hold.

To prove that point, an EU leaders’ summit on Thursday and Friday is unlikely to break new ground although of course all the hot topics such as banking union will be discussed.

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.

East Europe’s pension grabs give pause to reformers

The pension grabs by austerity-averse governments in Poland and Hungary could impact this year’s planned reforms in the Czech Republic, causing another emerging European Union member to soften its approach to a looming debt threat tied to an aging population.

Budapest has already drawn criticism for right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s plan to seize $14 billion of assets in privately held pension accounts to plug a budget hole without having to cut state spending. Poland’s plans, while not as extreme, have also raised eyebrows. Poles now pay about 7 percent of their paychecks into private accounts, but Prime Minister Tusk is planning to cut that to about 2 percent, taking the extra cash to reduce debt and replacing those funds with future state obligations.

To their credit, all three countries are among a group of nine who have lobbied Brussels, without much effect, for big exemptions to their pension reform costs. But while using funds designated for private pension accounts will cut the budget deficit in the short term, economists say it is only a trade-off between replacing short-term deficits with future pension costs, a good way for governments to stay popular but bad for long-term financial health.

Deficit-obsessed Czechs grapple ahead of vote

If one were to believe the noise coming from right-of-centre politicians in Prague, the Czechs are on the brink of a Greece-style budget meltdown, and victory by the leftist Social Democrats in a May 28-29 election would plunge them into economic collapse.

ODS Greece1An ad in newspapers this week from the right-wing Civic Democrats (ODS) showed masked Greek rioters in front of a burning barricade. “Socialists in Greece – the same as in the Czech Republic”, the headline read. Alongside, a picture of Jiri Paroubek, leader of the Social Democrats (CSSD) bore the caption “CSSD = State Bankruptcy”.

The ad angered the Greek embassy, which summoned ODS’s campaign manager to complain. It also puzzled many analysts as to why a country with relatively sound economic fundamentals could be worried about national bankruptcy in the short term.