MacroScope

Putin unmoved by carrots or sticks

Vladimir Putin said this morning Russia and the United States are still far apart over Ukraine. Moscow, he said, could not ignore “illegitimate decisions” imposed on the east and south of the country and calls for help by ethnic Russians there but the two powers should not sacrifice relations over it.

In an hour-long telephone call last night Barack Obama urged Putin to accept the terms of a potential diplomatic solution to the crisis whereby Moscow would keep its military bases in Crimea while respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty. But he also ordered sanctions – including travel bans and freezing of assets in the U.S. – on people responsible for Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine though Putin himself is not on the list.

Obama also said a Crimean referendum on joining Russia, called for 9 days’ time, violated international law.
Meanwhile, Congress passed a $1 billion loan guarantees package for the new government in Kiev. The European Union has already promised some $15 billion over the next two years, contingent on a deal being signed with the IMF.

In terms of sticks not carrots, the EU stopped a little short of Washington. An emergency summit of the bloc’s leaders condemned Russian actions in Crimea as illegal but took only minor steps, suspending talks with Moscow on visas and a new investment pact while warning of tougher measures if there is no negotiated solution soon.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has just said that if a first round of sanctions prove insufficient, a second wave could target businesses and individuals including people close to Putin.

Unsterilised ECB?

Foreign ministerial talks in Paris yesterday made little progress on Ukraine. Russia rejected Western demands that its forces in Crimea should return to their bases and its foreign minister refused to recognise his Ukrainian counterpart. Moscow continues to assert that the troops that have seized control of the Black Sea peninsula are not under its command. The West is pushing for international monitors to go in.

Today, at least some of the focus switches to Brussels where EU leaders will hold an emergency summit with a twin agenda of how to help the new government in Kiev and possible sanctions against Russia. On the latter, Europe has appeared more reticent than Washington not least because of its deep financial and energy ties, none more so than Germany and Britain.

The bloc yesterday offered Ukraine’s new government 11 billion euros in financial aid over the next two years, contingent on it reaching a deal with the IMF. It will also freeze the assets of ousted president Viktor Yanukovich and 17 others seen as culpable for violation of human rights – around 80 people were killed in the capital last month as they protested against Yanukovich’s rule. Kiev caused some market wobbles by saying it would look at restructuring its foreign currency debt.

Ker-pow! Turkey leaps to lira’s defence

 

Turkey’s central bank bit the bullet last night, despite Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan calling for it to hold firm just hours beforehand, and what a bite it was.

After months trying to avoid a rate rise it put 4.25 full percentage points on the overnight lending rate, taking it to 12 percent. No one can accuse Governor Basci of being under the government’s thumb now. The move vaulted expectations.

The big questions for Turkey are what such a magnitude of tightening, which the central bank said would persist, does to a faltering economy and how Erdogan, who is on a two-day trip to Iran, reacts.

Taking the union out of banking union?

Today’s meeting of EU finance ministers will grapple with banking union and next year’s stress tests though with no German government in place, a leap forward is unlikely.

One German official seemed pretty clear yesterday, saying: “We don’t want a mutualisation of bank risks.” That, some would argue, takes the union out of banking union and is certainly a very different approach to the one promised last year when EU leaders were scrambling to keep the euro zone together.

Some experts argue that with the European Central Bank pledging to support euro zone governments come what may, the urgency has been taken out of banking union and that next year’s health checks and cross-border supervision under the ECB is going far enough. Any holes in bank balance sheets can comfortably be filled by creditors and governments.

What’s happened to euro inflation?

New European Commission macro forecasts for the euro zone and the EU have been given added significance by an alarming drop in inflation to 0.7 percent which has heaped pressure on the European Central Bank to ward off any threat of deflation.

There are myriad other questions – Will the Commission predict that Italy will miss its deficit target? What will it say to those countries in bailout programmes – particularly Greece, where the troika returns for a bailout review today, and Portugal? And what about France’s sluggish economy? PMI surveys on Monday showed it is acting as a drag on the euro zone recovery.

Against that backdrop, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso will speak at Frankfurt’s St. Paul’s Church, the seat of the first democratically elected parliament in Germany. He is expected to outline the political priorities of the European Union in the months to come and spell out his expectations of a new German government.

Banking on union

The European Commission will present its blueprint for a body to refloat or fold troubled banks, largely in the euro zone. As we’ve said ad nauseam, there is no chance of a great leap forward on this front ahead of Germany’s September elections. The question is whether Berlin’s line softens thereafter.

Brussels will suggest a cross-border body able to overrule national authorities. Germany is opposed and says that would require treaty change which could take many years. Beyond that the EU’s executive appears to have pulled its punches somewhat.

The new authority will have to wait years before it has a fund to pay for the costs of any bank closures since the plan foresees a levy on banks to build a war chest of up to 70 billion euros which is expected to take a decade, leaving the agency dependent on national schemes for years.

A change of tack

Today sees the release of the European Commission’s annual review of its members’ economic and debt-cutting policies. It’s a big moment.

This is the point at which we get confirmation that France, Spain, Slovenia and others will be given more time to get their budget deficits down to target. We already know that France will get an extra two years, while Spain will get another two extra years (to 2016) to bring back its deficit below 3 percent. That comes on top of the 1-year leeway given last year.

This is the austerity versus growth debate in action. But let’s be clear, whatever the rhetoric, this is anything but an end to austerity. What it is, is an invitation to cut more slowly for longer. And in return, there will be extra pressure to press ahead with structural reforms to make economies more competitive and help create jobs. Spain already has, France has barely started and it is there that a lot of the concern rests. If Europe’s second largest economy fails to revitalize itself it will be a big blow to the EU project and further erode France’s political ability to drive it in tandem with Germany.

Euro zone triptych

Three big events today which will tell us a lot about the euro zone and its struggle to pull out of economic malaise despite the European Central Bank having removed break-up risk from the table.

1. The European Commission will issue fresh economic forecasts which will presumably illuminate the lack of any sign of recovery outside Germany. Just as starkly, they will show how far off-track the likes of Spain, France and Portugal are from meeting their deficit targets this year. All three have, explicitly or implicitly, admitted as much and expect Brussels to give them more leeway. That looks inevitable (though not until April) but it would be interesting to hear the German view. We’ve already had Slovakia, Austria and Finland crying foul about France getting cut some slack. El Pais claims to have seen the Commission figures and says Spain’s deficit will will come in at 6.7 percent of GDP this year, way above a goal of 4.5 percent. The deficit will stay high at 7.2 percent in 2014, the point so far at which Madrid is supposed to reach the EU ceiling of three percent.

2. Banks get their first chance to repay early some of the second chunk of more than a trillion euros of ultra-cheap three-year money the ECB doled out last year. First time around about 140 billion was repaid, more than expected, indicating that at least parts of the euro zone banking system was returning to health. Another hefty 130 billion euros is forecast for Friday. That throws up some interesting implications. First there is a two-tier banking system in the currency bloc again with banks in the periphery still shut out. Secondly, it means the ECB’s balance sheet is tightening while those of the Federal Reserve and Bank of Japan continue to balloon thanks to furious money printing. The ECB insists there is plenty of excess liquidity left to stop money market rates rising much and a big rise in corporate euro-denominated bond sales helps too. But all else being equal, that should propel the euro yet higher, the last thing a struggling euro zone economy needs.

Time to get real?

Spain’s plans to revive Bankia with state money and sort out its regions’ finances have well and truly unnerved the markets. It seems that Plan A — to inject state bonds straight into the stricken bank so that it could offer them to the ECB as collateral in return for cash — was roundly rejectd by the European Central Bank, so Madrid rapidly produced a second plan which will involve the government raising yet more money on the bond market, not helpful to its drive to cut debt.

That leaves the impression that Spain is making up policy on the hoof, not something likely to endear it to the markets. That’s particularly unfortunate since it has actually done an awful lot on the austerity and structural reform front over the past two years. But not enough.

It’s not all one-way traffic. Madrid is pressing its insistence that the ECB should be the institution to deliver a decisive message to the markets that the euro is here to stay – presumably by reviving its bond-buying programme (highly unlikely at this stage).

Not for the faint-hearted

With Spain’s banking system looking ever more parlous and the Damoclean Sword of Greek elections hanging over the financial markets, next week is not going to be for the faint-hearted.

Stock markets have endured another volatile week, rising early on before falling sharply just before the EU summit, then rising the day after – all this when very little changed on the euro zone landscape. Increasingly, the downward moves are sharper than the upward ones and there is little prospect of things settling before the June 17 Greek elections. It seems everyone is so nervous that if they are sitting on a day of gains, they cash them in double-quick.

Page one of the crisis management manual says get all the bad news out quickly. The handling of troubled Spanish lender Bankia has been an abject failure in that respect. First, the government said it would require about 9 billion euros to shore up, a few days on they are looking at 20 billion. One proposal doing the rounds is to create one nationalized bank out of a number of failed lenders. The big question, to borrow heavily from Louis XV, is: Apres Bankia la deluge?