MacroScope

An almighty gamble

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron leaves Downing Street in London

Having woken up to the very real possibility of Scotland going it alone, the leaders of Britain’s main parties have scrapped their parliamentary business and headed north to campaign in what amounts to a huge gamble.

The “No” campaign has been criticized for many things – being too negative (though no is negative by definition), being too aloof, failing to address the hole’s in Alex Salmond’s manifesto. The question is whether it is too late to do anything about it. It is risky to deploy Prime Minister David Cameron who, by his own admission, is not catnip to the Scots.

Labour leader Ed Miliband is anything but a clear vote-winner either. The years when the Labour party ruled Britain with a raft of Scots in senior positions is gone. The party front bench now looks very English.

Both Miliband and the leader of the Scottish Conservatives have tried to defuse the idea of voting for independence as the way of ridding Scotland of Conservative government.

It will be fascinating to see what tone Cameron, Miliband and Nick Clegg adopt … and what reaction they face! It is pretty clear that the threats from London such as stopping Scotland from having the pound have not been successful campaigning gambits.
The leaders will fan out separately but offer the same plea to keep the union together. In a joint statement they said: “There is a lot that divides us – but there’s one thing on which we agree passionately: the United Kingdom is better together.”

Too close to call

Cakes are seen at a tea-party organised by members of the group 'English Scots for YES' near Berwick-upon-Tweed on the border between England and Scotland

A second opinion poll in three days has put the Scottish independence vote as too close to call.

TNS gave the “No” vote 39 percent  support and “Yes” 38. Its last poll in late July gave the “No” campaign a 13-point lead. Taking only those who are certain to vote, the two camps are tied at 41 percent.

The figures look different to YouGov’s weekend poll which sent a jolt through London and Scotland. It gave the secessionists a 51-49 lead but the direction of travel is clear and with only nine days to that could be decisive.

What’s it all about, Mario?

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It’s ECB day and after Mario Draghi’s recent dramatic utterances, expectation for fresh action has grown, expectations which are likely largely to be dashed.

Draghi told the world’s central banking elite in Jackson Hole last month that market inflation expectations were falling markedly and the European Central Bank would use everything in its power to stabilize them in order to avoid a deflationary spiral. He also ripped up central banking orthodoxy by calling for more fiscal spending by governments at the same time as redoubling economic reform efforts. How to read that?

Two possibilities spring to mind. Either Draghi (who has talked with a number of EU leaders recently) thinks he can secure fresh a  commitment on structural reform and can use that to go back to his ECB colleagues to argue they should cross the ultimate Rubicon and start printing money in return.

Over to Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama walks towards Air Force One before departing for Estonia while at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington

Barack Obama is in Estonia before the NATO summit in Wales intending to pressure Vladimir Putin to back off in Ukraine. The rhetoric will be strong – not least about protecting the Baltics under NATO’s umbrella.

But with zero chance of western military action in Ukraine the hope is that economic pain via sanctions will bring Moscow to heel. Existing sanctions are clearly hurting the economy – the rouble has plumbed record lows as capital flees or shuns the country – but that hasn’t stopped Putin so far.

He seems intent not on taking Ukraine over but keeping the rebels sufficiently well armed and supported to keep Kiev off balance and unstable. If that is the intention it has certainly succeeded.

UK rate consensus nearly rock-solid even as markets flip-flop over timing

BFor all of the flip-flopping in sterling markets in recent months over when the Bank of England will finally lift interest rates off their lowest floor in more than 300 years, the consensus view among forecasters has been remarkably stable.

Not only that, but surprise news that two of the nine members of the Monetary Policy Committee voted this month to hike Bank Rate by 25 basis points to 0.75 percent does not seem to have shaken the view that it will be early next year before rates go up.

The Reuters Poll consensus — which the BoE uses to brief the MPC on policy expectations and cites each month in the minutes — has concluded on each occasion since March that a UK rate hike is not going to happen until the first half of 2015. Before March, the view was that it was likely to take even longer.

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”.

All eyes on Putin

Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to reporters during a meeting in Brasilia

Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet his top security officials prior to visiting annexed Crimea on Thursday with members of his government.

One way or another, with Ukrainian government forces encircling the main pro-Russian rebel stronghold of Donetsk, matters are coming to a head. Putin must decide whether to up his support for the separatists in east Ukraine or back off.

Tens of thousands of Russian troops remain camped near the Ukraine border and a Russian convoy of trucks carrying tonnes of humanitarian aid is heading for  eastern Ukraine. Kiev says it would not allow the vehicles to cross into its territory and it and Western governments warned Moscow against any attempt to turn the operation into a military intervention by stealth in a region facing a humanitarian crisis after four months of warfare.

The long and winding road to sanctions

Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to reporters during a meeting in Brasilia

If it’s true to its word, the European Union will impose sweeping new sanctions on Russia this week, targeting state-owned Russian banks and their ability to finance Moscow’s faltering economy.

EU ambassadors will continue discussions on the detail of new measures, most significant of which would be banning European investors from buying new debt or shares of banks owned 50 percent or more by the state.

An embargo on arms sales to Moscow and restrictions on the supply of energy and dual-use technologies is also on the table but it looks like restrictions to supplying technology to Russia will include oil but exclude the gas sector.

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.

A dissenting voice

A train carrying the remains of the victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17 arrives in Kharkiv

Interesting intervention from former Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin late yesterday who warned that Russia risked isolation and having its efforts to modernize derailed.

That sort of internal criticism is rare but Kudrin has done so before without censure which suggests Vladimir Putin is – or has been – willing to hear it. Kudrin added that Moscow should not intervene militarily in eastern Ukraine.

EU foreign ministers came up with more promises of tougher action against Russia without quite showing the colour of their money. Meeting in Brussels they discussed restricting Russian access to European capital markets, defence and energy technology, asking the executive European Commission to draft proposals this week.