MacroScope

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.

Despite some vacillation at an EU summit on Saturday, there seems no way that Europe and the United States can avoid tougher sanctions to halt what they say is direct Russian military involvement in Ukraine.

One of the great imponderables of this crisis has been whether economic pain could bring Putin to heel or whether he felt free to act given the zero chance of any military intervention by the West, notwithstanding the call by U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the political divide on Sunday to send arms to Kiev.

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.

Draghi in London

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European Central Bank President Mario Draghi will deliver an evening keynote speech in London – the scene for his game-changing “whatever it takes” declaration in 2012.

He is unlikely to come up with anything so dramatic this time but is clearly trying to convince that the ECB could yet start printing money if required to avert deflation.

Draghi has taken the ECB a long way in terms of radical policies which some of its members have found hard to swallow. But QE could yet prove to be a bridge too far. Shortly after Draghi held out the prospect last week of printing euros to ward off deflation, Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann and his German ECB colleague Sabine Lautenschlaeger mounted a rearguard action.

ECB: talk but no action

EThe European Central Bank holds its monthly policy meeting and after launching a range of new measures in June it’s a racing certainty that nothing will happen this time. However, ECB President Mario Draghi has plenty of scope to move markets and minds in his news conference.

We are still waiting for details of the ECB’s new long-term lending programme which is supposed to be contingent on banks lending the money on to companies and households. Last time they got a splurge of cheap money, the banks largely invested in government bonds and other financial market assets. With euro zone yields now at record lows, the ECB would not like to see a repeat.

Draghi will certainly be asked to clarify what looked like a new attempt at forward guidance. Last month, the ECB offered up new four-year loans to banks, and extended its offer of unlimited liquidity to the end of 2016.

Deflating euro zone inflation expectations

EThe euro zone is not deflating, it’s just at risk of a too-prolonged period of low inflation, says European Central Bank President Mario Draghi.

Judging by recent evidence, it might be very prolonged, which is bad news for an economy struggling to shift out of low gear.

Inflation held steady at just 0.5 percent in June, well below the ECB’s 2.0 percent ceiling, stuck in what it calls the “danger zone” of below 1.0 percent for nine straight months.

EU’s top two — oh to be a fly on the wall

Who are the two most important people in the EU? It’s hard to argue against Angela Merkel and Mario Draghi and they meet today in Berlin.

It’s supposed to be a private meeting but of course we’ll be digging, particularly for any signs that the German leader is for or against the European Central Bank printing money if it is required to beat back deflation.

The German media responded negatively to last week’s measures, defaulting to the country’s historic fear of inflation stretching all the way back to the 1920s Weimar Republic although there is virtually no inflation in Europe’s largest economy at the moment. Merkel has given Draghi a fair wind in the past to initiate “unorthodox” policy measures.

Obama impatient with EU over Russia

The G7 has said tougher sanctions on Russia could be imposed as soon as today. EU ambassadors  are holding an emergency meeting in Brussels.

The EU will extend travel bans and asset freezes to more people involved in the Ukraine intervention. For now, Washington is treading the same path though maybe more explicitly targeting Vladimir Putin’s “cronies”.

Barack Obama is already looking ahead to a third round of measures and hinted at impatience with Europe, saying there had to be a united front if future sanctions on sectors of the Russian economy were to have real bite.

Talking the talk

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi delivers a speech in Amsterdam which will fixate the markets following his recent statement that a stronger euro would prompt an easing of monetary policy.

Most notably via his Clint Eastwood-style “whatever it takes” declaration the best part of two years ago, Draghi has proved to be peerless in the art of verbal intervention. But even for him there is a law of diminishing returns which may require words to be backed up with action before long. 

In the 12 days since he put the euro firmly on the ECB’s agenda, the currency has actually weakened a little and certainly shied away from the $1.40 mark which many in the market see as a first red line for the euro zone’s central bank. That is probably because investors expect action from the ECB  soon and if so, there are good reasons to think they may be wide of the mark.

To QE or not to QE?

ECB Vice-President Vitor Constancio testifies to the European Parliament prior to attending the IMF Spring meeting in Washington at the back end of the week along with Mario Draghi and other colleagues. Jens Weidmann, Yves Mersch and Ewald Nowotny also speak today.

There has undoubtedly been a change in tone from the ECB, which is now openly talking about printing money if inflation stays too low for too long (no mention of deflation being the required trigger any more). Even Bundesbank chief Weidmann has done so.

Last week, Draghi made it sound as if really serious thought was being given to how to do it. He raised the prospect of buying private sector assets, rather than government bonds as other central banks have. The question is whether he is trying to talk the euro down or whether the central bank is now more alarmed, and therefore deadly serious.

Reasons to do nothing

It’s ECB day and the general belief is that it won’t do anything despite inflation dropping to 0.5 percent in March, chalking up its sixth successive month in the European Central Bank’s “danger zone” below 1 percent.

The reasons? Policymakers expect inflation to rise in April for a variety of reasons, one being that this year’s late Easter has delayed the impact of rising travel and hotel prices at a time when many Europeans take a holiday. Depressed food prices might also start to rise before long.

More fundamentally, they do not see any signs of deflation psychology taking hold, whereby businesses and consumers defer spending plans in the expectation that prices will cheapen.