MacroScope

A question of liquidity

The Federal Reserve’s decision to keep printing dollars at an unchanged rate, mirrored by the Bank of Japan sticking with its massive stimulus programme, should have surprised nobody.

But markets seem marginally discomfited, interpreting the Fed’s statement as sounding a little less alarmed about the state of the U.S. recovery than some had expected and maybe hastening Taper Day. European stocks are expected to pull back from a five-year high but this is really the financial equivalent of “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin”. The Fed’s message was little changed bar removing a reference to tighter financing conditions.

However, the top central banks have sent a signal that they think all is not yet well with the world – the Fed, BOJ, European Central Bank, Bank of England, Bank of Canada and Swiss National Bank have just announced they will make permanent their array of currency swap arrangements to provide a “prudent liquidity backstop” indefinitely.

On the liquidity front, ECB policymaker Ewald Nowotny has stated that more will be made available to euro zone banks as the more than 1 trillion euros of cheap long-term loans issued late in 2011 and 2012 expire. He didn’t specify what that would entail. ECB board members Carlos Costa and Erkki Liikanen are speaking later.

We reported earlier this week that there are three trains of thought within the ECB about what policy move, if any, to make next. Some policymakers want to consider an interest rate cut, some to keep the option open of another long-term liquidity splurge for the banks a la last year’s LTRO and others in  the “core” euro zone don’t want any policy shift at all. Nowotny has said there is not much that can be done to curb a resurgent euro.

The Italian Job

Italy has dropped out of the spotlight a little following the protracted political soap opera surrounding Silvio Berlusconi. But it remains perhaps the euro zone’s most dangerous flashpoint.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta now has some time to push through economic reforms, cut taxes and spending in an effort to galvanize activity. But already the politics look difficult.

Italy’s three main unions are to strike over the government’s 2014 budget plan. Former premier Mario Monti resigned as head of his centrist party after it supported the budget which he viewed as way too modest, lacking in meaningful tax cuts and deregulation.

Humdrum summit

A two-day EU summit kicks off in Brussels hamstrung by the lack of a German government.

Officials in Berlin say they want to reach a common position on a mechanism for restructuring or winding up failing banks by the end of the year but with an entire policy slate to be thrashed out and the centre-left SPD saying the aim is to form a new German administration with Angela Merkel’s CDU by Christmas, time is very tight.

On banking union, a senior German official said Berlin had no plans to present an alternative plan for how a resolution fund might work at the  summit and reiterated Berlin’s stance that national budget autonomy for winding up banks could not be outsourced.

Stress, stress, stress

The European Central Bank will announce the methodology which will underpin the stress tests of about 130 big European banks next year.

It is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Come up with a clean bill of health as previous discredited stress tests did and they will have no credibility. So it is likely to come down on the side of rigour but if in so doing it unearths serious financial gaps, fears about the euro zone would be rekindled and there is as yet no agreement on providing a common backstop for the financial sector.

France, Spain and Italy want a joint commitment by all 17 euro zone countries to stand by weak banks regardless of where they are. Germany, which fears it would end up picking up most of the bill, is worried about the euro zone’s rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism, helping banks directly without making their home governments responsible for repaying the aid.

Can we have a German government please?

Angela Merkel’s CDU and the centre-left SPD have agreed to begin formal coalition talks conditional on securing support from a meeting of 200 senior SPD members scheduled for Sunday. The party is scarred by its experience of coalition in the last decade, when its support slumped, but it’s probably the lesser of two evils since a new vote would be quite likely to increase Merkel’s support. She only just missed out on a rare overall majority first time around.

Assuming Sunday’s vote gives assent, talks proper will start on Wednesday. Hold your horses though. An entire policy slate will have to be thrashed out so the betting is an administration won’t be in place until late November at the earliest. In the meantime, euro zone policy negotiations are pretty much on hold.

To prove that point, an EU leaders’ summit on Thursday and Friday is unlikely to break new ground although of course all the hot topics such as banking union will be discussed.

Of euro budgets and banks

Euro zone finance ministers meet today and will have one eye on budgetary matters given a Tuesday deadline for member states to send their draft budgets to the European Commission for inspection, and with protracted German coalition talks keeping other meaningful euro zone reform measures on hold.

Most draft budgets are in but we’re still waiting on Italy and Ireland. Dublin will unveil its programme on deadline day. Italy’s situation is more fluid so we may get something today.

Over the weekend, Dublin said it may quit its bailout by the year-end without any backstop in the form of a precautionary credit line. That would rule it out for ECB bond-buying support, which it probably also doesn’t need. But it needs at least the 1.8 percent growth forecast for next year to keep bearing down on debt.

Right time to pump up UK housing market?

The British government is poised to announce the extension of its “help to buy” scheme for potential home owners.

As of today, any buyer(s) of a property up to a value of 600,000 pounds ($960,000) who can put up a five percent deposit, will see the government guarantee to the lender a further 15 percent of the value so a bank or building society will only be lending on 80 percent of the property’s value. Until now, demands for cripplingly large deposits have shut many prospective buyers out of the market.

The big question is whether now – with property prices rising by around 3 percent nationally and by a heady 10 percent annually in London – is a sensible time to be doing this given Britain’s long history of housing bubbles.

Greek turning point?

Greece will unveil its draft 2014 budget plan which is expected to forecast an end to six years of recession.

The draft will include key forecasts on unemployment, public debt and the size of the primary surplus Athens will aim for to show it is turning the corner. The government has said any further fiscal belt-tightening will not bring cuts in wages and pensions and that savings will be generated from structural measures.

If even Greece has passed the worst then maybe the euro zone crisis really is on the wane. The FT reports that billionaire John Paulson and a number of other U.S. hedge funds are investing aggressively in Greece’s banking sector, expecting it to get off its knees – an interesting straw in the wind.

Stay of execution?

No sign of movement on the U.S. government shutdown but in Italy, party talks have been running red hot, keeping Italian markets in thrall.

Yesterday, senior figures in Silvio Berlusconi’s PDL party urged their colleagues to defy the former premier and back Prime Minister Enrico Letta in a parliamentary confidence vote expected today. Most tellingly, the media mogul’s key ally, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, called on the party to back Letta.

Now nothing is certain in Italian politics and sources close to Letta say he will not call a vote if the numbers aren’t there, and could resign instead. But given he has a firm grip on the lower house, if even some PDL members support him in the Senate he should win the vote.

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.