MacroScope

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.

Despite some vacillation at an EU summit on Saturday, there seems no way that Europe and the United States can avoid tougher sanctions to halt what they say is direct Russian military involvement in Ukraine.

One of the great imponderables of this crisis has been whether economic pain could bring Putin to heel or whether he felt free to act given the zero chance of any military intervention by the West, notwithstanding the call by U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the political divide on Sunday to send arms to Kiev.

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”.

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.

Another month, another downside surprise on euro zone inflation

sale signsNobody except a born pessimist ever expects a bad situation to get incrementally worse.

But the relentless downward trajectory of inflation in the euro zone has got plenty of economists sounding unconvinced that the situation will turn around any time soon.

A surprise plunge in Spanish inflation to -0.3 percent in July and a lack of any additional inflation pressure from Germany, the euro zone’s largest economy, dashed hopes that euro zone inflation would rise from 0.5 percent back toward the European Central Bank’s 2.0 percent target.

Euro zone inflation to fall further?

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Euro zone inflation is the big figure of the day. The consensus forecast is it for hold at a paltry 0.5 percent. Germany’s rate came in as predicted at 0.8 percent on Wednesday but Spain’s was well short at -0.3 percent. So there is clearly a risk that inflation for the currency bloc as a whole falls even further.

The Bundesbank has taken the unusual step of saying wage deals in Germany are too low and more hefty rises should be forthcoming, a sign of its concern about deflation. But the bar to printing money remains high and the European Central Bank certainly won’t act when it meets next week. It is still waiting to see what impact its June interest rate cuts and offer of more long-term cheap money to banks might have.

German retail sales, just out, have risen 1.3 percent on the month in June after a fall in May.

EU cuts off Russian banks, puts ball in Moscow’s court

Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to reporters during a meeting in Brasilia

True to its word, the EU agreed sweeping sanctions on Russia yesterday, targeting trade in equipment for the defence and oil sectors and, most crucially, barring Russia’s state-run banks from accessing European capital markets. The measures will be imposed this week and will last for a year initially with three monthly reviews allowing them to be toughened if necessary.

There was no rowing back from the blueprint produced last week – having already agreed to exempt the gas sector – and the United States quickly followed suit, targeting Russian banks VTB, Bank of Moscow, and Russian Agriculture Bank, as well as United Shipbuilding Corp.

That is important. Both sides are striving to shut down alternative sources of capital for Russia’s financial sector although there has already been some reaching out to Asia. Gazprombank held a two-day roadshow with fixed-income investors in Seoul last week.

Draghi vs Weidmann

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European Central Bank President Mario Draghi makes a lengthy appearance in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. He will doubtless reassert that the ECB would start printing money if necessary but, as we reported last week, policymakers are fervently hoping they won’t have to and that a raft of measures announced in June will do enough to lift the economy and inflation.

Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann fired another broadside over the weekend, saying rates were too low for Germany and policy should remain expansive for no longer than absolutely necessary.

With less than a week to run to the July 20 deadline for a deal, Iran and the six world powers are miles apart on Tehran’s nuclear programme. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday major differences persist – largely over uranium enrichment —  with Iran and Tehran did not demur.

Bank of England, the first mover?

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After the European Central Bank kept alive the prospect of printing money and the U.S. economy enjoyed a bumper month of jobs hiring prompting some to bring forward their expectations for a first U.S. interest rate rise, the Bank of England holds a monthly policy meeting.

There is no chance of a rate rise this time but the UK looks increasingly nailed on to be the first major economy to tighten policy, with the ECB heading in the opposite direction and the U.S. Federal Reserve still unlikely to shift until well into next year. Minutes of the Fed’s last meeting, released yesterday, showed general agreement that its QE programme would end in October but gave little sign that rates will rise before the middle of 2015.

The British economy is growing fast and its housing market has been running red hot – prices in London have shot up nearly 26 percent from a year ago – though the BoE says rate rises are not the first tool to deal with that. Britain’s closely-watched RICS housing survey, released overnight, showed signs that some of the heat is starting to come out with its house price balance easing back.

Draghi in London

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European Central Bank President Mario Draghi will deliver an evening keynote speech in London – the scene for his game-changing “whatever it takes” declaration in 2012.

He is unlikely to come up with anything so dramatic this time but is clearly trying to convince that the ECB could yet start printing money if required to avert deflation.

Draghi has taken the ECB a long way in terms of radical policies which some of its members have found hard to swallow. But QE could yet prove to be a bridge too far. Shortly after Draghi held out the prospect last week of printing euros to ward off deflation, Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann and his German ECB colleague Sabine Lautenschlaeger mounted a rearguard action.

Juncker begins to fill in the gaps

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European Commission president-elect Jean-Claude Juncker will hold talks with the various political groupings in the European Parliament as he seeks to develop policy positions. Most interesting would be indications about which way he is bending in the growth versus austerity debate.

Italy’s Matteo Renzi, resurgent after a strong performance in May’s EU elections, is pressing for a focus on measures to get the euro zone economy firing and has even managed to get Germany to talk the talk. But any leeway will be within the existing debt rules, not by writing new ones.

We know from the history of the euro debt crisis that Berlin can only move so far, so fast and only last week it proudly proclaimed it would not be a net borrower of zero next year, for the first time in over 45 years. Having said that it has just passed into law a generous national minimum wage and its labour costs are rising, so there is some rebalancing going on.