MacroScope

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.

About 18 billion euros of savings for 2014 will be detailed with the bulk – about 15 billion – coming from spending cuts. Economists are already saying the new target to bring the deficit below 3 percent in 2015 could be difficult considering France’s decades-old struggles with cutting public spending.

Furthermore, EU officials are quietly expressing disappointment at the modest nature of French pension reforms, and it now seems the reforms will put a further burden on the public purse in the long run. The aim was to wipe out a pension deficit expected to reach 20.7 billion euros by 2020 if nothing is done, but government documents sent to lawmakers indicate the deficit for public-sector workers’ pensions would fall by only 800 million euros under Francois Hollande’s plan.

As election passes, German election keeps on chugging

Germany’s Ifo sentiment index is the big data release of the day and is forecast to continue its upward trajectory after the country’s PMI survey on Monday showed the private sector growing at its fastest rate since January.

Surveys have been strong through the last quarter, putting a question mark over the downbeat European Central Bank and German government forecasts for the second half of the year. The currency bloc as a whole looks set to pretty much replicate its 0.3 percent growth in the second quarter, nothing spectacular but a sign that recession is probably a thing of the past. The German economy rebounded strongly in the second quarter, growing by 0.7 percent. It might not quite match that in Q3 but it may not be far off.

After the Federal Reserve took its finger off the trigger, emerging markets have enjoyed some welcome respite. Hungary’s central bank meets today having cut interest rates by just 20 basis points in August, ending a run of successive quarter-point cuts stretching back into last year.

Angie ascendant

The ecstasy and the agony.

Angela Merkel scored a resounding election victory but by apparently falling just short of an overall majority, while her FDP coalition colleagues failed to get the 5 percent share of the vote needed for any parliamentary representation, she is probably going to have to turn to the centre-left SPD to form a government.

An SPD/Greens/left coalition is not impossible but having secured 42 percent of the vote, the tune is Merkel’s to call.

A grand CDU/SPD coalition is favoured by the German public, according to the polls, and could lead to some policy shifts, and certainly a lot of haggling over key positions in government (will Wolfgang Schaeuble remain as finance minister?) but is unlikely to lead to any seismic shifts, particularly in euro zone policy. The anti-euro Alternative for Germany (AfD) fell just short of 5 percent but having come from nowhere in just seven months, it has put down a marker.

Banking union shift

For most of the year, the biggest question for the euro zone was whether the pace of reform would pick up after German elections which are now just six days away. Thanks to a Reuters exclusive over the weekend it appears the answer could be yes, at least incrementally.

Senior EU officials told us that Germany is working on a plan that would allow the completion of a euro zone banking union without changing existing EU law. Until now, Berlin has insisted the EU would have to amend its Treaty to move power to close or fix struggling banks from a national to a European level – a process which could take years.

In exchange, a cross-border resolution agency would only rule over the fate of 130 euro zone banking groups that will be directly supervised by the European Central Bank from the second half of 2014. That would leave Germany’s politically sensitive savings banks under Berlin’s control.

Euro chat resumes

After the summer lull, euro zone and EU finance ministers meet in Lithuania. The “informal Ecofin” can often be quite a big deal but with German elections only nine days away, it’s hard to see that being the case this time.

During the election campaign German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble let slip that Greece would need more outside help which would not include a haircut on Greek bonds held by euro zone governments and the ECB.

Since then, European Central Bank policymaker Luc Coene has said Athens might need two bouts of further assistance and Estonia’s prime minister told us yesterday the popular bailout fatigue he flagged as a danger last year had now faded and he was open to aiding Greece with a third bailout and helping other troubled euro zone nations too.

Italian market test

Italy will auction three different bonds, aiming to raise 7.5 billion euros against a volatile domestic backdrop.

A sale of one-year bills on Wednesday saw yields rise, this after the Treasury asked parliament to raise the ceiling on this year’s net debt issuance to 98 billion euros from 80 billion, given the struggle to rein in public finances and a government commitment to pay outstanding bills to firms, which at least could give the economy a boost.

Parliamentarians have a bigger fish to fry in the form of Silvio Berlusconi. A cross-party Senate committee that must decide on whether to bar him from political life drew back from the brink on Tuesday but has caused growing tension between the coalition parties with some of Berlusconi’s allies threatening to pull the shaky government down.

UK unemployment — the monthly monetary policy guide

Of the week’s economic data, today’s UK unemployment stands out since the Bank of England has pegged any move up in interest rates to a fall in the unemployment rate from 7.8 percent to below 7.0. The rate is forecast to have held at 7.8 percent in July.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has struggled to convince markets of his contention that interest rates are unlikely to rise for three years because the jobless rate will fall only very slowly. Interest rate futures – short sterling – spiked higher after last week’s policy meeting which offered no change of direction and no statement.

There are some key imponderables:
1. To what extent UK firms have kept workers on but worked them less (its certainly true that the jobless rate rose less than expected during Britain’s recession), leaving plenty of scope to ramp up as growth returns without hiring large numbers of new staff.
2. The economy is still three percent smaller than it was in 2008 but no one is quite sure how much activity has been permanently lost during the financial crisis so the size of the output gap is uncertain and therefore so is the level of output at which price pressures start to build.
3. Most importantly, with the Federal Reserve poised to act, can a country like Britain possibly divorce itself from the world’s economic superpower as it sets the global terms of monetary policy?

Italy’s High Noon

Silvio Berlusconi’s political future – upon which both Italian and euro zone stability rest to varying degrees – is up for debate when a Senate committee meets on Monday to begin discussions that could end with formal procedures to expel him from the Senate. Talks could last for days.

Members of Berlusconi’s centre-right PDL have threatened to walk out of Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s coalition government if a final vote – due in the Senate in October or maybe November – bars him from political life, following the upholding of his conviction for tax fraud.

One of Berlusconi’s key allies says he has already prepared a video message that could announce a decision to bring down the coalition government.

Turning up?

Manufacturing PMI surveys for euro zone countries and Britain will be the latest litmus test of the durability of fledgling economic recoveries.

Even the readings from Spain and Italy have shown improvement over the summer so it may well be that they are the most interesting given we’ve already had flash readings for the euro zone, Germany and France which showed business activity across the currency bloc picked up faster than expected in August.

Having exited recession in the second quarter, further euro zone growth now looks likely in the third.
Britain’s recovery looks more solid still following a 0.7 percent leap in GDP in Q2. Its PMI will be augmented by Bank of England figures on its funding for lending scheme, whereby banks are offered cheap money on the proviso they lend it on to smaller companies.

Euro zone rate cut prospects evaporate

The euro zone is growing again and while its weaker constituents face plenty of tough times yet, it seems less and less likely that the European Central Bank will cut interest rates from their record low 0.5 percent. That illustrates the problems of the new fad of forward guidance.

The ECB deliberately stayed vaguer than most – a product of ripping up its custom of “never precommitting” – saying that rates would stay at record lows or even go lower over an extended period.
Its monthly policy meeting falls next week and in a parallel transparent world Mario Draghi could consign the “or lower” part of the guidance to history after just two months. Don’t bet on that happening but it shows how quickly things can move.

If anyone in Europe, Britain or elsewhere is hoping for a cast iron guarantee that rates won’t rise for two, three or more years, forget it.
Exhibit A today will be Germany’s Ifo sentiment index which has been coming in strong in recent months and is not expected to buck that trend.
It must be only a matter of time before the government and Bundesbank upwardly adjust their forecasts for a significant slowdown in the second half of the year, following 0.7 percent growth in the second quarter.