MacroScope

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.

Germany, as usual, is sceptical and is making great play of the fact it will have no net new borrowing next year for the first time since 1969 even though its economy is barely growing. European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has also called for more active fiscal policy from euro zone governments, a hint perhaps that he thinks the ECB has done as much as it can.

There have been signs of a developing compact, German reluctance notwithstanding, whereby some leeway on debt would be allowed in return for meaningful labour and other structural economic reforms from the likes of France and Italy.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Showdown for Hollande

French President Hollande and Finance Minister Sapin take part in the assizes for financing and investment at the Elysee Palace in Paris

The French government faces a confidence vote in the national assembly after President Francois Hollande and his prime minister, Manuel Valls, ousted dissident ministers in a signal perhaps that they are prepared to push ahead with unpopular structural reforms to breathe life into a moribund economy.

Rebel lawmakers in Hollande’s Socialist party say they may abstain. On top of the reshuffle, they are angry at Hollande’s policy switch in January to favour tax cuts to business in a bid to revive the economy – a move that has failed to kickstart a flatlining economy.

Hollande looks like he has the numbers to get home but a more profound rebellion could force him to dissolve parliament and call new elections. The Socialists have a one-seat majority in parliament.
Socialist party managers put at 30 the number of hard-left deputies set to abstain. A revolt of that order would allow the government to scrape approval from the 577-seat assembly with support from centre-left allies outside the Socialist Party.

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.

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.

Nearer the brink

A man walks past cutting boards, that have been painted with images of Russia's President Vladimir Putin, at a street store in the center of St. Petersburg

Ukraine is nearer the brink with Russian forces now pretty clearly operating over the border. The past week has seen Ukrainian forces flee in the path of a new rebel advance which Kiev and its western allies says has been directly aided by Moscow’s forces.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called on Sunday for immediate talks on “statehood” for southern and eastern Ukraine, though his spokesman tried to temper those remarks, that following an aggressive public showing in which Putin compared the Kiev government to Nazis and warned the West not to “mess with us”.

The deputy leader of the breakaway east Ukrainian region said he would take part in talks with representatives of Moscow and Kiev in Minsk today but did not expect a breakthrough. Russian foreign minister Lavrov is out saying the Minsk talks will aim for an immediate ceasefire without conditions although he also said Ukrainian troops must vacate positions from which they can hit civilian targets. Meanwhile, eight Ukrainian seamen have been rescued, two are still missing, after a patrol boat was sunk by artillery.