MacroScope

10 days to define the United Kingdom

The Flag of Scotland, the Saltire, blows in the wind near Berwick-upon-Tweed on the border between England and Scotland

The earthquake may be about to happen. Over the weekend the first opinion poll putting the independence campaign ahead landed with a resounding thump.

That prompted the UK government to rush forward to this week plans to spell out what further devolved powers Edinburgh would get if the Scots vote to stay on Sept. 18.

With the caveat that the last two dramatic polls have both been from one group – YouGov – and others have suggested “No” remains ahead, it seems momentum is well and truly with Alex Salmond.
In response, sterling has fallen about 1 percent in Asian trade to its weakest level in nearly 10 months. The pound has now dropped the best part of three percent against the dollar this month. The banks and other business will now be seriously alarmed as well.

The latest polls show that if the union holds together it will be old people that will have delivered. Women and Labour supporters, previous “no” strongholds, are deserting fast if YouGov has it right.
The other question is whether there will be a “shy No” vote. In the 1980s many Britons wouldn’t admit publicly to voting for Margaret Thatcher but then did in the privacy of the ballot box, so her poll ratings often underplayed the reality. This time, the bold thing to do is vote Yes and the independence campaign has been robust to say the least. So it’s possible there are a voters who won’t admit to it but will put their cross by “No” a week on Thursday.

In the 1995 Quebec independence campaign, the “Yes” camp was well ahead with a week to go and lost by a whisker.

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”.

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.

Q3 rebound but at cost of price cutting?

A woman walks past a shop in Madrid

Manufacturing PMI surveys across the euro zone and for Britain are due. The emerging pattern is of an improving third quarter after a generally poor second three months of the year.

The UK economy continues to romp ahead – growing by 0.8 percent in the second quarter – but on the continent there are signs of a new slowdown. The Bundesbank now forecasts no Q2 growth at all in Germany and though the euro zone flash PMI, released a week ago, showed the currency area rebounding in July, that largely came at the cost of companies cutting prices further, thereby pushing inflation lower still.

France continues to languish but Spain is one brightening spot, posting 0.6 percent quarterly growth in Q2, not stellar but healthy and adding to 0.4 percent growth in Q1.

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.

EU slowly tightens screw

A coffin of one of the victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17 downed over rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine, is carried from an aircraft during a national reception ceremony at Eindhoven airport

The EU is slowly tightening the screw on Russia, with senior officials proposing yesterday to target state-owned Russian banks in its most serious sanctions so far. Ambassadorial talks on how precisely that is to be done continue today and the measures are likely to be enacted next week.

One key proposal is that European investors would be banned from buying new debt or shares of banks owned 50 percent or more by the state. These banks raised almost half of their 15.8 billion euro capital needs in EU markets last year. That is a big deal and there are increasing signs of investors turning their back on Russia lock, stock and barrel. However, with its giant FX reserves, the central bank can provide dollars to fund external debt for a considerable period of time.

The ambassadors did agree to add more people and entities to the EU’s asset freeze list, using expanded criteria including Russian companies that help to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty. The 15 individuals and 18 entities, half of which are companies, will be named today. Russian shares are down about 1 percent in early trade.

EU on Russia sanctions: slowly, slowly

Ukraine's President Poroshenko and Dutch ambassador to Ukraine Klompenhouwer commemorate victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 outside the Dutch embassy in Kiev

EU foreign ministers meet to decide how precisely to deploy sanctions agreed 10 days ago to hit Russian companies that help destabilise Ukraine and to block new loans to Russia through two multilateral lenders.

The EU foreign ministers are tasked with preparing a first list of people and entities from Russia that would be targeted. The number of individuals and companies to be penalized is up for grabs so there is scope to adopt a tougher posture.

The public statements of EU leaders have made it sound like a more dramatic move is possible. Could that be the “sectoral” sanctions that Washington has pushed for which could deliver a really serious blow to the already flatlining Russian economy? Well no, not yet. That would require another summit of leaders. The next one is set for the end of August although an emergency meeting is not out of the question and today’s meeting could give a nod in that direction.