MacroScope

EU leaders meet for a gas

France's President Hollande talks with German Chancellor Merkel  during a meeting on the sidelines of a Europe-Asia summit in Milan

A two-day summit of EU leaders is supposed to focus on climate and energy policy including efforts to enhance energy security following the threat of interruptions to gas supplies from Russia.

That is no small issue. Russia and Ukraine have failed so far to reach an accord on gas supplies for the coming winter but agreed to meet again in Brussels in a week in the hope of ironing out problems over Kiev’s ability to pay.

An agreement was reached on the price Ukraine would pay Russia’s Gazprom as long as it paid in advance for the deliveries. But Moscow is still seeking assurances on how Kiev would find the money to pay. It’s likely the EU will have to step in there.

Putin had threatened to cut gas supplies to Europe if Ukraine stole from the transit pipeline to cover its own needs this winter. Any interruption to flows to western Europe, via Ukraine from Russia, would deal another blow to already struggling EU economies.

The EU summit, held a day after the European Parliament confirmed the line-up of the new European Commission under Jean-Claude Juncker, will urge Russia to do more to stabilise Ukraine, according to a draft statement seen by Reuters, but diplomats expect no change in sanctions on Moscow in the near future.

ECB in the dock

Protestors left some barbed wire in front of the euro sign landmark outside the headquarters of the ECB before its monthly news conference in Frankfurt

The European Court of Justice holds a first hearing on the legality of the European Central Bank’s Outright Monetary Transactions programme. There won’t be anything definitive today but it serves to rekindle debate about the limits of the ECB’s powers.

In February, the German Constitutional Court asked the European Court to rule on the legality of OMT, the mechanism that drew a line under the euro zone crisis when it was unveiled in 2012. The court may give guidance about how best to make a final ruling which is expected in late spring next year.

The scheme has never been deployed because the mere threat of action prompted government borrowing costs to tumble to record lows. Now, the debate is centred on whether the central bank should start printing money to ward off a deflationary downward spiral.

Battle lines drawn

Germany's Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schauble speaks during a discussion during the World Bank/IMF annual meetings in Washington

The predictable battle lines were drawn at the G20/IMF meetings in Washington – most of the world urged Europe to do more to foster growth while Germany warned against letting up on austerity. The argument will doubtless be reprised today when euro zone finance ministers meet in Luxembourg.

Given a ghastly run of German data last week and sharp cuts to its growth forecasts by the IMF and Germany’s economic institutes, Berlin’s stance looks increasingly odd but Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble continued to make it abundantly clear he will not countenance any more public spending in the one European country that could really afford it.

Writing cheques won’t fix Europe, he stated bluntly.

If there was anything new it appeared to be the intensity of the response. This from European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi: “For governments that have fiscal space it makes sense to use it. You decide to which countries this sentence applies.”

Greek confidence vote

A Greek and an EU flag flutter in front of the temple of the Parthenon during the takeover ceremony of the six-month rotation of Greece's EU Presidency in Athens

Greece’s ruling coalition will hold a confidence vote in parliament this evening in an effort to end speculation that the country may be facing snap elections early next year.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras wants to use the vote to gain support for his candidate in a presidential vote. Under Greek law, parliament must be dissolved if a president cannot be elected. The radical leftist Syriza, which has a sizeable lead in opinion polls, has pledged to block Samaras’s pick.

Athens has begun talks with the EU and IMF inspectors on life after its bailout. The coalition is hoping an exit will rally Greeks fed up with years of austerity, but it faces a series of hurdles in pulling that off, including convincing EU/IMF lenders it can finance itself without problems.

Italian and Greek confidence votes

Greece's PM Samaras addresses the audience during the Economist Conference on "The big rethink for Europe, the big turning point for Greece" in Athens

You wait ages for a no-confidence vote then two come along on the same day. Neither are expected to cause governments to topple.

Greece’s ruling coalition will hold a confidence vote in parliament in an effort to end speculation that the country may be facing snap elections early next year.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras wants to use the vote to gain support for his candidate in a presidential vote. Under Greek law, parliament must be dissolved if a president cannot be elected. The left-wing Syriza party, which has a sizeable lead in opinion polls, has pledged to block Samaras’s pick.

Shocking German figures

A new Mercedes AMG GT super sports car rim is seen during a factory tour for journalists at the Mercedes AMG headquarters in Affalterbach

After a stunning fall in German industrial orders for August – the 5.7 percent monthly drop was the largest since the global financial crisis raged in 2009 – industrial output for the same month has just plunged by 4.0 percent, also the biggest fall in five years.

After Europe’s largest economy shrank in the second quarter there had been hope of a pick-up in the following three months but the thrust of recent data suggests it will be lucky to achieve any expansion at all.

At the same time, the government – particularly finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble – vehemently rejects calls from euro zone and G20 peers for greater efforts to get growth going.

Turkey poised to intervene?

Iraqi Shi'ite militia fighters stand atop destroyed vehicles belonging to Islamic State militants outside Bo Hassan village near Tikrit

Turkey’s parliament has voted to give the government a green light to order military action against Islamic State as the insurgents tightened their grip on a Syrian border town, sending thousands more Kurdish refugees into Turkey.

There is little sign of it being put into imminent use but the vote gives the government powers to order incursions into Syria and Iraq to counter the threat of attack “from all terrorist groups”. By common consent, western air strikes alone are unlikely to vanquish IS and there is a great deal of doubt that Syrian and Iraqi forces can best them on the ground.

Service sector PMI surveys for euro zone member states, Britain and others are forecast to show France and Italy languishing in contractionary territory while Spain achieves quite strong growth.

Draghi tries to keep show on the road

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The European Central Bank has one of its two offsite policy meetings of the year, in Naples. After a glut of measures last time it’s inconceivable that further action will be taken now but there is plenty to ponder.

A first tranche of cheap four-year loans has been offered to banks in the hope they will lend it on but the take-up was poor. The ECB is playing up the prospects of a second round in December after bank stress tests are out of the way. But having pledged to add the best part of 1 trillion euros to its balance sheet to rev up the euro zone economy, there is a lot of ground to cover.

Draghi will flesh out the ECB’s parallel plan to buy bundled-up loans – asset-backed securities – which has already been viewed with disquiet by Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann. That may be heightened by the realisation that if the ECB is to open the offer to banks across the euro zone, it may have to take in some rather dicey looking collateral from the likes of Greece and Cyprus.

Britain to join the fray

A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq

The British parliament will vote today on whether UK forces should join U.S.-led air attacks against Islamic State militants. Any action will be confined to Iraq, which has asked for help, not Syria where IS also controls swathes of territory. Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a separate vote on that if it comes to it.

Unlike last year when action to stop Syria’s Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons against his own people was voted down, all the main parties appear to be broadly in support, probably swayed by the beheading of captives by the Sunni militants.

There shouldn’t be much difficulty arguing that the group poses a threat to Britain and its interests. Iraq’s prime minister said overnight that Baghdad had “credible” intelligence that Islamic State militants plan to attack subway systems in Paris and the United States. The attacks, he said, were plotted from inside Iraq.

Brazil’s economy: not as bad as it looked?

Brazil's President Rousseff looks on during a news conference to present the balance of the 2014 World Cup in Brasilia

Brazil’s economy may have grown by 3 percent in 2012, three times as much as originally reported, according to an ongoing review of GDP data that could solve one of the biggest economic puzzles since the global financial crisis.

If accurate, estimates from local consultancy LCA would help explain why unemployment remained so low and consumer prices failed to ease when Latin America’s economy looked so weak.

It would also suggest that President Dilma Rousseff and the central bank might have jumped the gun as they slashed interest rates and offered dozens of costly subsidies and tax cuts to jump-start an economy that may not have needed any stimulus at all.