MacroScope

Oh Silvio

Even before the vote on his political future, Silvio Berlusconi ordered his five ministers to quit Italy’s teetering coalition government over the weekend in an attempt to force fresh elections.

With markets already alarmed at the prospect of another self-inflicted political wound – the U.S. government budget shutdown – Italian assets could take a hammering today with investors finally waking up to the potential chaos looming.

Bond yields did climb a little last week but not to the extent that suggests the worst-case scenario is anything like priced in. Italian BTP futures have plunged by well over a full point at the open and the euro is on the skids. Let’s hope everyone still believes in the European Central Bank’s euro zone backstop.

President Giorgio Napolitano – the 88-year-old on whom hopes for political stability again rest – and Prime Minister Enrico Letto are intent on avoiding early elections by forming a new coalition.

It’s possible that moderate members of Berlusconi’s centre-right grouping could be wooable – even the five ministers have issued statements expressing reservations or even outright disagreement with the decision – and there’s the unpredictable, anti-establishment Five Star movement to court as well. But time is tight.

Euro chat resumes

After the summer lull, euro zone and EU finance ministers meet in Lithuania. The “informal Ecofin” can often be quite a big deal but with German elections only nine days away, it’s hard to see that being the case this time.

During the election campaign German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble let slip that Greece would need more outside help which would not include a haircut on Greek bonds held by euro zone governments and the ECB.

Since then, European Central Bank policymaker Luc Coene has said Athens might need two bouts of further assistance and Estonia’s prime minister told us yesterday the popular bailout fatigue he flagged as a danger last year had now faded and he was open to aiding Greece with a third bailout and helping other troubled euro zone nations too.

Back from the beach

Back from a two-week break, so what have I missed?

All the big and ghastly news has come from the Middle East but there have been interesting developments in the European economic sphere.
It seems safe to say that Britain’s economic recovery is on track, and maybe more broadly rooted than in just consumer spending and a housing market recovery (bubble?).

Slightly more surprisingly, the euro zone is back on the growth track too with some unexpectedly strong performances from Portugal and France in particular in the second quarter. Latest consumer morale data have been strong and as a result European Central Bank policymakers have begun downplaying thoughts of a further interest rate cut. However, it’s unlikely that all these countries will grow as strongly in the third quarter. Tuesday’s reading of German sentiment via the Ifo index will be key this week.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble admitting what was widely known but hitherto unacknowledged – that Greece will need more financial help. The real shock was not the news but the source; the assumption had been that no one would whisper a word until the German elections are out of the way in four weeks’ time. Angela Merkel has been notably more circumspect about Greece than her finance minister.

Silvio’s trials

Italy’s Supreme Court last night upheld Silvio Berlusconi’s conviction for tax fraud and a four-year jail term, to the fury of the man who has dominated Italian politics for 20 years and throwing a fragile coalition government into peril.

The markets have been sanguine about Italy, maybe with good reason, since its reform and debt-cutting programme is well in train and no one seems to want fresh elections. But that could change for a country that has always been viewed as “too big to bail” by the euro zone.

Italian bond futures have even risen a little, taking a wait-and-see view. There is of course the little matter of the U.S. non-farm payrolls report looming later, with markets still fixated on the chances of the Federal Reserve slowing its bond-buying programme this year.

A Marshall Plan for Greece

The spectacular failure of “expansionary austerity” policies has set Greece on a path worse than the Great Depression, according to a study from the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College.

Using their newly-constructed macroeconomic model for Greece, the Levy scholars recommend a recovery strategy similar to the Marshall Plan to increase public consumption and investment.

“A Marshall-type recovery plan directed at public consumption and investment is realistic and has worked in the past,” the authors of the report said.

Spain on the way back … to stagnation

Spain heads the rest of the euro zone pack with second quarter GDP figures at a time when we’re seeing glimmers of hope, with surveys suggesting the currency area could resume growth in the third quarter.

The Bank of Spain has forecast a 0.1 percent drop in GDP from the previous three months. It is usually close to the truth which supports the government’s claim that the economy is close to emerging from recession.

Last week, the Spanish unemployment rate fell for the first time in two years, although at 26 percent of the workforce it remains alarmingly high, and PMI readings have begun to pick up.

An Italian in Greece

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta will be in Athens for talks with Greek premier Antonis Samaras today with (whisper it) the prospect of the euro zone enjoying its first summer lull for years, in fact all the way up to German elections on Sept. 22.

No major decisions are likely before that point and who knows what will come afterwards, though continuity is a better bet than a radical shift.

 The latest poll at the weekend showed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right coalition lost its lead over the three main opposition parties. Merkel’s conservatives held steady at 40 percent but her junior coalition partner, the Free Democrats, lost one point to 5 percent while support for the main opposition parties remained steady.

Central bank guides

The Bank of England will publish the minutes of Mark Carney’s first policy meeting earlier this month which will pored over for signs of how the debate about forward guidance – it’s all the rage in the central banking world now – went, and whether that may herald more money printing or act as a proxy for looser policy.

Carney’s colleague, Paul Fisher, indulged in his own form of guidance yesterday, telling a parliamentary committee that discussions within the Bank were focused on how to give a steer about future policy moves and whether to inject more stimulus, not whether it should start to be withdrawn as the Federal Reserve has signalled it may do before the year-end.

Fisher is one of the three of nine members of the Monetary Policy Committee who has been voting to print more money in recent months, but it was an interesting comment nonetheless. Unemployment data today will give the latest guide to the state of recovery while the independent Office for Budget Responsibility will publish its fiscal sustainability report.

Just a typical euro zone day

Spain will sell up to four billion euros of six- and 12-month treasury bills, prior to a full bond auction on Thursday. Italy attracted only anaemic demand at auction last week and Madrid has already had to pay more to borrow since the Federal Reserve shook up the markets with its blueprint for an exit from QE.

However, yields are nothing like back to the danger levels of last year and both countries have frontloaded their funding this year. Economy Minister Luis de Guindos, who declared over the weekend that the Spanish economy will grow in the second half of the year, speaks later in the day.

The political backdrop is also shaky, and getting shakier by the day, although that doesn’t always infect market sentiment. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy rejected calls to resign on Monday over a party financing scandal and said his reform programme would continue unaffected.

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.