MacroScope

from Global Investing:

Phew! Emerging from euro fog

Holding your breath for instant and comprehensive European Union policies solutions has never been terribly wise.  And, as the past three months of summit-ology around the euro sovereign debt crisis attests, you'd be just a little blue in the face waiting for the 'big bazooka'. And, no doubt, there will still be elements of this latest plan knocking around a year or more from now. Yet, the history of euro decision making also shows that Europe tends to deliver some sort of solution eventually and it typically has the firepower if not the automatic will to prevent systemic collapse.
And here's where most global investors stand following the "framework" euro stabilisation agreement reached late on Wednesday. It had the basic ingredients, even if the precise recipe still needs to be nailed down. The headline, box-ticking numbers -- a 50% Greek debt writedown, agreement to leverage the euro rescue fund to more than a trillion euros and provisions for bank recapitalisation of more than 100 billion euros -- were broadly what was called for, if not the "shock and awe" some demanded.  Financial markets, who had fretted about the "tail risk" of a dysfunctional euro zone meltdown by yearend, have breathed a sigh of relief and equity and risk markets rose on Thursday. European bank stocks gained almost 6%, world equity indices and euro climbed to their highest in almost two months in an audible "Phew!".

Credit Suisse economists gave a qualified but positive spin to the deal in a note to clients this morning:

It would be clearly premature to declare the euro crisis as fully resolved. Nevertheless, it is our impression that EU leaders have made significant progress on all fronts. This suggests that the rebound in risk assets that has been underway in recent days may well continue for some time.

So what exactly have investors and been doing while waiting for the fog to clear in Brussels?  The truth on most benchmark prices and indices is "not very much" -- at least not since world markets got the collywobbles in early August about US downgrades and debt ceilings, euro sovereign debt angst and double dip recession. Yet, since the European stocks nadir in late September prodded the Franco-German alliance into more serious action, there has been some impressive market gains of between 10 and 20% across most equity sectors and national indices. More broadly, after a year of intense political and financial turmoil across the globe, developed market equities are only down about 4% year-to-date -- a 10 point outperformance on emerging markets, for example.

And the clearing of the euro fog now allows investors to start looking beyond the Brussels cauldron and review how the rest of the world is shaping up. What they find, surprisingly for those drowning in disaster commentaries, is‘not all that bad – especially, but not exclusively in the United States. There's been a string of more positive economic data releases throughout October and these have continued through the back end of last week and early this week. The bellwether Philadelphia Fed industrial index rose to its highest in six months; U.S. durable goods orders (excluding volatile aircraft orders) rose at their fastest pace in six months in September; U.S. new home sales rose at their fastest in five months; business surveys show Chinese manufacturing is back expanding again in October for the first time in three months; U.S. power firms are reporting a pickup in industrial activity in H2, Ford has increased fourth quarter forecast for North American vehicle production. The U.S. Q3 earnings season hasn’t been half bad either – with a third of the S&P500 reported, some 70 percent beat forecasts and the main strength was in the industrial world. What’s more for markets, seasonal equity flows are typically in an updraft for the rest of the year, all things being equal. Fund managers already started rebuilding equity positions in September.

Supervising the supervisors

A new Brookings Institution report from the self-appointed Committee on International Economic Policy and Reform suggests that, given a spotty recent record, supervisors and policymakers at the world’s top central banks need to be watched themselves. The group of 16 high-profile economists and financial experts, which includes former Brazilian central bank chief Arminio Fraga, Berkeley professor Barry Eichengreen, Harvard’s Kenneth Rogoff and Mohamed El-Erian from Pimco, proposes a new international watchdog that might ensure actions taken by individual countries are coordinated and smoothed out:

We call for the creation of an International Monetary Policy Committee composed of representatives of major central banks that will report regularly to world leaders on the aggregate consequences of individual central bank policies.

The proposal comes as the Federal Reserve, faced with a weakening U.S. economy, ponders another round of unconventional monetary stimulus. Many analysts believe the Fed will take some type of step to support low long-term rates at its September 20-21 meeting. When the Fed implemented its second round of bond-buying, it came under harsh criticism from emerging economies for pushing up their exchange rates with ultra-low rates in the United States.

Italy under fire as debt crisis heats up

It’s been a rough week for the euro zone and Italy is feeling the pain.

Despite regular purchases of Italian bonds by the European Central Bank since August — a policy aimed at keeping funding costs affordable — yields on benchmark 10-year Italian government bonds rose as high as 5.6 percent this week. Before the ECB started intervening in the secondary market, yields surged above 6 percent. Beyond 7 percent, funding costs are perceived to be unsustainable.

This raises questions over the effectiveness of ECB policy – doubts heightened  by the shock news that the central bank’s chief economist Juergen Stark would leave the institution early because of disagreements over the bank’s bond-buying policy.

The news highlights the rift inside the central bank over the handling of the worsening debt crisis. It drew a dramatic close  to a week of uncertainty: a debt swap meant to help Greece avoid default hung in balance;  a row over collateral for Greek bailout loans remained unresolved; and national parliaments had yet to ratify increased powers for the euro zone’s rescue fund.

Price stability key to ECB bond buys?

Price stability remains the only needle in the compass for the European Central Bank, even when it is buying government bonds, the 17-country bloc’s central bank strived to argue on Sunday.

ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet said, in the statement announcing extension of its bond-buying programme, that the decision was made to keep inflation at an acceptable level.

“This programme has been designed to help restoring a better transmission of our monetary policy decisions – taking account of dysfunctional market segments – and therefore to ensure price stability in the euro area,” Trichet said.

Axel who? ECB gets tough without hardman Weber

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When it decided the time was right to crack down on inflation, the European Central Bank did so without the man who is often regarded as its toughest inflation hawk: Bundesbank chief Axel Weber.  The ECB took financial markets by surprise by announcing on Thursday it could raise rates as soon as April — a decision its policymakers reached without Weber even in the room.

The German, who has appeared isolated at times over the last year because of his staunch commitment to price stability above all else, was absent without leave and did not attend the meeting.

“He’s tied up today,” a spokesman for the Bundesbank said of Weber, who last month announced he would step down from the central bank a year before his term ended and that he was no longer a candidate to head the ECB when Trichet’s term expires in October. Weber said his hardline views were not well received by other decision makers.

Dutch ECB knowledge as holey as their cheeses

ECB President Jean-Claude TrichetThe Dutch public’s knowledge about the European Central Bank is as holey as the some of the country’s infamous cheeses, a new ECB survey has shown.

 When asked about the ECB’s main objective and being given the option to mark statements as true or false, more than 60 percent of Dutch respondents knew the ECB strives for price stability, but close to half of those surveyed also believed it tries to keep unemployment below five percent and more than a third think its primary objective is high economic growth.

    “Knowledge about the ECB’s main policy objective is far from perfect,” the study which was carried out last year said.”The average number of correct answers to our eleven statements is less than five.” 

The ECB’s exit strategy gets the austerity treatment

Trichet gives the ECB's exit strategy the austerity treatment

Trichet gives the ECB's exit strategy the austerity treatmentAs a top central banker you have to watch your words. Almost every one you utter is scrutinised by finanical markets for a cryptic hint on policy the way a jeweller studies a diamond. So when you chop out almost a quarter of the content of your main policy message, the likelihood is that you know you are playing with fire.
The ECB juggled the flames on Thursday, slashing 427 words — almost 25 percent –from its monthly policy statement. The leaner 1,388 word composition represented no change at all in the bank’s view of the world, stressed the bank’s President, Jean-Claude Trichet.
But the some of the stuff binned involved some of juiciest material, particularly all-important plans to remove crisis support. That section got reduced by almost 30 percent to a slender 62 words although the message stayed the same, something along the lines of: we will reel support in gradually and when markets are ready.
With central banks in other major advanced economies now turning back in the direction of stimulus, the ECB’s unwavering, albeit shorter, view of the exit route helped the euro break through the $1.40 barrier.
It just shows that austerity really is all the rage in much of the euro zone.

Investment Week: From the Trenches…

Early September skirmishes turned this week into full-scale “currency wars”, to use Brazil’s terminology. Dramatic language, but not unwarranted. The markets have taken Fed signals of preparation for further money printing as an effective attempt at a dollar devaluation, allowing the country export its deflationary pressures overseas via capital outflows to higher-yielding developing countries.

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The major developing nations, for all the arguments favouring currency revaluations of 20-25% over the next couple of years, are not going to stand idly by and watch that happen overnight. But their attempts to offset the impact of soaring local currencies and attendant asset bubbles merely floods local economies with cash at a time when fighting inflation — not deflation — is their priority. Brazil has raised the red flag, but the likes of Turkey and Taiwan are also registering fears about the impact of another bout of US monetary pump priming. Meantime, the gloves are off in the US-China yuan row; possible trade measures are being invoked in DC; and there is little chance of cooler heads prevailing this side of the US mid-term elections. This story will run.

What’s certain is the G20 finance meeting in South Korea on Oct 22 has significant work to do. Next week the battle lines are already drawing up at the Asia-Europe summit in Brussels (and China’s PM Wen and Japan’s PM Kan both travel) and then the annual IMF/G7 meetings in DC. The key US September payrolls report on Friday, for good measure, may be the deciding data set for the Fed to pull the trigger on QEII. And also meeting next Thursday is the Bank of England, itself back in a QE frame of mind if you listened this week to one of its policymakers Adam Posen  

Diplomacy in central banking debate comes back to bite Weber

German central bank board member Thilo Sarrazin

German central bank board member Thilo Sarrazin

Fresh from asserting that diplomacy is over-rated for central bankers, German Bundesbank President Axel Weber is now embroiled in an embarrassing scandal over undiplomatic comments from one of his board members which could ultimately damage Weber’s own career ambitions.

Thilo Sarrazin, who joined the central bank’s board last year, has unleashed a debate in Germany over immigration and integration policy with a book critical of Turkish immigrants and has drawn rebukes from political leaders, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, for asserting that Jews and Basques have a “particular gene” that sets them apart.

The Bundesbank condemned his comments as harming the reputation of the institution and is considering its options, but under German law – designed to safeguard the independence of the central bank from political swings and roundabouts — has only limited options to get him removed.

Diplomacy not needed for top ECB job, says Bundesbank boss

Axel Weber, head of Germany’s Bundesbank and a frontrunner to take over the leadership of the European Central Bank next year, thinks diplomacy is over-rated in central bankers.

TrichetWeberWeber normally avoids all comment on the tricky subject of choosing a successor to current ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet but with just over a year to go before the plum post comes up, could not resist making an ambit claim.

Asked by a television interviewer whether  he was enough of a diplomat to take over from Trichet given his public criticism of the ECB’s decision to buy government bonds in May, Weber said he thought diplomacy was an optional extra.