MacroScope

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.

The targets included Raqqa city, the headquarters of Islamic State, an extremist Sunni Muslim force that has seized large expanses of territory in Iraq and Syria and proclaimed a caliphate. President Barack Obama will be in New York later for the U.N. General Assembly where he will try to rally more nations behind his drive to take on IS.

Flash September PMI surveys for the euro zone, Germany and France will give the latest snapshot of how well the euro zone has recovered from a dismal second quarter of the year, if at all. China’s equivalent has defied gloomy expectations by picking up momentum and edging into expansionary territory.

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.

Euro zone recovery snuffed out

A BMW logo is seen the wheel of a car in Mexico City

A glut of euro zone GDP data is landing confirming a markedly poor second quarter for the currency area.

The mighty German economy has shrunk by 0.2 percent on the quarter, undercutting the Bundesbank’s forecast of stagnation. Foreign trade and investment were notable weak spots and the signs are they may not improve soon.

France has fared little better, flatlining again in the second quarter. That has forced the French government to confront reality, saying it would miss its deficit target again this year and cutting its 2014 forecast for 1 percent growth in half. There was no mention of the 2015 goal when France’s public deficit is due to come into line with the EU’s 3 percent of GDP cap, but Finance Minister Michel Sapin said Paris would cut its deficit “at an appropriate pace”.

End game in east Ukraine?

A Ukrainian serviceman sits on a military armoured vehicle near Donetsk

Ukrainian government forces say they are preparing for the final stage of recapturing the city of Donetsk from pro-Russian separatist rebels after shelling its outskirts and making significant gains over the weekend.

The city faces increasing shortages of food, water and electricity. Vladimir Putin must now decide whether to leave the rebels to their fate or step up his support.  Kiev said on Saturday it had headed off an attempt by Russia to send troops into Ukraine under the guise of peacekeepers accompanying a humanitarian convoy sanctioned by the Red Cross. Moscow dismissed the allegation as a “fairy tale”.

On a weekend telephone call, U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed that any Russian intervention in Ukraine, even under purported ‘humanitarian’ auspices, without the express authorization of Kiev was unacceptable and would provoke “additional consequences.”

When Mario met Jean-Claude

European Central Bank President Draghi and Eurogroup President -Juncker talk during a news conference in Nicosia, Cyprus

A day before the European Central Bank’s monthly policy meeting, ECB President Mario Draghi will travel to Luxembourg for talks with incoming European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. Oh to be a fly on the wall.

Some in the ECB are concerned that ultra-low sovereign borrowing costs and Draghi’s “whatever it takes” promise has relieved pressure on euro zone governments to carry on with structural economic reforms.
Juncker has signalled he is comfortable with a Franco-Italian drive to focus on growth and job creation rather than cutting debt.

ECB policymakers would probably be happy with that if it came in tandem with reforms to make euro zone economies more competitive. But it is worried about slippage.

The Scottish question

First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond smiles as he watches a diving event at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh

Scottish nationalist leader Alex Salmond and former British finance minister Alistair Darling, who is fronting the campaign to remain part of the United Kingdom, go head-to-head in the first and possibly only live television debate of the campaign. It is a bigger moment for Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, who must garner a shift in the polls which consistently put his “Yes” campaign significantly behind with the referendum only six weeks away.

At the last British general election, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was widely perceived to have won the leaders’ debates yet it didn’t translate into votes. There are, however, a large number of “don’t knows” to play for in Scotland and Salmond is by common consent the more charismatic figure and slick orator.
During the two-hour debate, Darling is likely to highlight the uncertainty over whether an independent Scotland could retain the pound and automatically be part of the EU and how the nationalists would fund their public spending pledges.

The “No” campaign can also point to the greater devolved powers all the major parties are promising Edinburgh should the Scots vote no. Overnight, Britain’s three main national political parties all said they would seek further powers for Scotland in the event of a “No” vote, in the areas of fiscal responsibility and social security.