MacroScope

Oscar Wilde and the euro zone

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose one looks like misfortune, to lose two smacks of carelessness.
Portugal’s government has been plunged into crisis with the foreign minister resigning a day after the finance minister did, the latter complaining that the public would not tolerate his austerity drive.

Prime Minister Passos Coelho has refused to accept the second departure, essentially putting the government’s survival in the gift of Foreign Minister Paulo Portas, who objected to Treasury Secretary Maria Luis Albuquerque replacing Finance Minister Vitor Gaspar. Portas could pull his rightist CDS-PP party out of the coalition government, which would rob it of a majority. The opposition is calling for early elections, the premier says not.

All this is happening with the next review of Portugal’s bailout progress by its EU and IMF lenders just two weeks away and with euro zone borrowing costs already firmly on the rise again. Portuguese yields lurched higher after Portas’ resignation and doubtless will continue in that direction today.

If Gaspar is right and public opinion turns more hostile, given a deep recession looks unrelenting, things will get even more difficult. Passos Coelho has already said he may seek a further easing of debt-cutting goals for next year. The betting is firming on another bailout being required.

EU officials are increasingly concerned that the crisis is back after 10 months of calm. The markets are reflecting that very concern. German Bund futures have jumped almost half a point at the open and Italian bond futures have fallen by three quarters of a point.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Who guards the guards? In the case of Europe’s banks, the answer is still a work in progress given the faltering efforts to create a banking union.

Today, we interview Jaime Caruana, head of the Bank for International Settlements which said on Sunday that its central bank constituents should not be deterred by fears of market volatility when the time came to start turning off the money-printing machines. That moment was fast approaching, it said.

The big question is why it would not be safer to wait until the world economy is on a sounder footing before turning the money printing presses off, particularly since there is a notable absence of any inflationary threat.

Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the water…

A worrying weekend for the euro zone.

Greece’s coalition government – the guarantor of the country’s bailout deal with its EU and IMF lenders – is down to a wafer-thin, three-seat majority in parliament after the Democratic Left walked out in protest at the shutdown of state broadcaster ERT.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras insists his New Democracy can govern more effectively with just one partner – socialist PASOK – but the numbers look dicey, although it’s possible some independent lawmakers and even the Democratic Left could lend support on an ad hoc basis.

Samaras has ruled out early elections and says the bailout – without which default looms – will stay on track. If the government fell and elections were forced, the likely beneficiaries would include the anti-bailout leftist Syriza party which, if it got into government or formed part of one, really would upset the applecart.

G8 — plenty to worry about

The week kicks off with a G8 leaders’ summit in Northern Ireland. Syria will dominate the gathering and the British agenda on tax avoidance is likely to be long on rhetoric, short on binding specifics.

But for the economics file, this meeting could still yield big news. For a start, Japanese prime minister Abe is there – the man who has launched one of the most aggressive stimulus drives in history yet has already seen the yen climb back to the level it held before he started.

The financial backdrop could hardly be more volatile with emerging markets selling off dramatically since the Federal Reserve warned the pace of its dollar creation could be slowed.

A week to reckon with

The week kicks off with a G8 leaders’ summit in Northern Ireland. Syria will dominate the gathering and the British agenda on tax avoidance is likely to be long on rhetoric, short on specifics. But for the markets, this meeting could still yield some big news. For a start, Japanese prime minister Abe is there – the man who has launched one of the most aggressive stimulus drives in history yet has already seen the yen climb back to the level it held before he started. Abe will also speak in London and Warsaw during the week.

The financial backdrop could hardly be more volatile with emerging markets selling off dramatically since the Federal Reserve warned the pace of its dollar creation could be slowed. Berlin has said the G8 leaders are likely to discuss the role of central banks and monetary policy, and Angela Merkel will hold bilateral talks with Abe during the summit. President Barack Obama travels to Berlin after the summit for talks with Merkel.

The central banks of Turkey, Switzerland and Norway all have monetary policy decisions to make in the coming week and may have some interesting things to say about the revival of market turmoil after months of calm. The Norwegians have said interest rates are likely to stay at 1.5 percent for months to come and the Swiss National Bank is unlikely to loosen its cap on the Swiss franc which has served it so well, particularly given markets are now back in flux and traders are starting to talk about flight-to-safety moves again. The elephant in the room is the Federal Reserve’s latest policy decision on Wednesday, followed by a Ben Bernanke press conference.

Talking Turkey … and Greece

Yesterday was another day of turmoil for emerging markets and according to equity index provider MSCI, they have a new member.

For anyone who thought the euro zone’s debt crisis was over, MSCI lowered Greece to emerging market status last night. MSCI’s focus is the useability of the stock market – which it said fell short of developed market status – but its move casts a wider judgment on an economy still deep in recession, with unemployment at 27 percent and which will almost inevitably need a further debt writedown in the future.

An MSCI upgrade can attract a wider poll of investors who track its indices. The reverse is also true.

Draghi on the IMF and Greece: Hindsight’s a wonderful thing

ECB President Mario Draghi had an interesting couple of things to say about historical perspective at his press conference on Thursday, responding to the IMF’s admission that it lowered its normal standards to bail out Greece, among other things.

While the EU Commission came out and said some of the IMF’s conclusions were flatly wrong, Draghi took another approach. Basically, hindsight is a wonderful thing:

“If this paper by the IMF, which I have read, besides being a mea cupla, identifies the reasons for mistakes that have been made an other things, we certainly have to take them into account in the future.

The numbers don’t lie

Euro zone unemployment figures will emphasize just how far the currency bloc is from recovery while inflation data due at the same time could push the European Central Bank closer to new action. If price pressures drop further below the target of close to but below two percent we’re moving into territory where the ECB has a clear mandate to act, although the consensus forecast is for the rate to push up to 1.4 percent, from 1.2 in April.

Market attention is focused on the ECB cutting its deposit rate – the rate banks get for parking funds at the ECB – into negative territory to try and get them to lend. But will that do much? Despite being in a world awash with central bank money and stock markets in the ascendant, the fact that safe haven bond markets such as Bunds and U.S. Treasuries haven’t sold off much – and are now starting to climb after Ben Bernanke’s hint that the Federal Reserve could soon start slowing its money-printing programme — denotes ongoing nervousness among banks and investors. Data this week showed bank loans to the euro zone’s private sector contracted for the 12th month in a row in April.

Despite the (now waning?) European market euphoria – started by the ECB’s pledge to do whatever it takes to save the euro and given a further shot in the arm by Japan’s dash for growth – the economic numbers look grim. Euro zone unemployment is forecast to edge up to 12.2 percent of the workforce. Last night, official data showed French unemployment hit a new record. Germany is in better shape but even it will barely eke out any growth this year. Retail sales, just out, posted a 0.4 percent fall in April.

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.

Why a German exit from the euro zone would be disastrous – even for Germany

Let’s face it: “Gerxit” doesn’t roll of the tongue nearly as smoothly as a “Grexit” did. While Europe continues to struggle economically, fears of a euro zone break-up have receded rapidly following bailouts of Greece and Cyprus linked to their troubled banking sectors.

Mounting anti-integration sentiment in some of region’s largest economies, raise concerns about whether the divisive monetary union will hold together in the long run. Indeed, the rise of an anti-Europe party in Germany begs the question of what would happen if one of the continent’s richer nations decided to abandon the 14-year old common currency. Never mind that, viewed broadly, the continent’s banking debacle has actual saved Germans money so far.

Billionaire financier George Soros, has argued that Germany should either accept a closer fiscal union with its peers, including so-called debt mutualization – the issuance of a common Eurobond – or give up on the euro. Hans-Werner Sinn, head of Germany’s influential Ifo Institute, strongly disagrees, blaming the crisis on southern Europe’s “loss of competitiveness.”