MacroScope

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.”

Jyrki Katainen, the former Finnish premier poised to become the EU’s top official for growth and jobs, said Germany, France and Italy must focus on public investment to revive their economies.

Most outspoken was former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, sharing the stage with Schaeuble. Europe risked sliding into an era of Japan-style deflation without a “substantial discontinuity in policy”, he said. Europe, and Germany in particular, should follow recent advice from the IMF to invest in infrastructure projects.

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.

A first for British politics

Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP drinks a pint of beer in the Gardeners Arms pub in Heywood near Manchester

By this time tomorrow, the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party is likely to be celebrating its first member of the Westminster parliament. Polls have just opened in the deprived seaside town of Clacton where the sitting Conservative lawmaker switched to UKIP and called a vote.

A second member of the ruling Conservative party has now defected to UKIP and will force another by-election before long leaving the party on tenterhooks over who might be next. Many fear they will lose their seats at the May 2015 general election as UKIP splits their vote.

Could that be enough for them to turn on David Cameron? Maybe not but if they did go for a new leader they would inevitably want someone who was more anti-European with all the implications that would have for a planned referendum on EU membership in 2017.

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 back on board for action in Iraq

An Iraqi SWAT trooper covers his ears as he fires a mortar bomb during clashes with Islamic State militants, north of Muqdadiyah

U.S. air strikes in Syria continued overnight with a monitoring group saying at least 14 Islamic State fighters were killed.

Having sat out so far, Britain said it would join strikes against militants but only in Iraq for now – which has asked for such help – not Syria. IS holds swathes of land in both countries.

Parliament is to reconvene on Friday and, unlike last year when action to stop Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons against his own people was voted down, all the main parties are now broadly in support. Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet will meet today to finalise what they will put to parliament tomorrow.

Europe looks again to Draghi

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Surprisingly low take-up at last week’s first round of cheap four-year loans by the European Central Bank begs a number of questions – How low is demand for credit and what does that say about the state of the economy? Are banks cowed by the upcoming stress tests? Does this make an eventual leap to QE more likely?

The ECB is playing up the prospects of a second round in December after the stress tests are finished. But having pledged to add the best part of 1 trillion euros to its balance sheet to rev up the euro zone economy, it can’t have been happy to see only 83 billion euros of loans taken. ECB President Mario Draghi testifies at the European Parliament today.

After narrowly winning a confidence vote in the National Assembly in a manner that doesn’t exactly give him momentum, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls travels to Germany to compare notes on economic reform.

Margin for error

A Union Flag and Scottish Saltire fly over Britain's Cabinet Office in central London

Another day, another Scottish opinion poll and this time a different message, but only slightly.

A Survation survey last night showed 53 percent of Scots would vote to remain in the UK, 47 for independence. Ten percent of the electorate remain undecided. That counters three recent polls which have shown a dead heat or slight lead for the Yes campaign. Given the margin for error – three points either way – they all suggest next Thursday’s vote is too close to call although hitherto, Survation has consistently put support for independence higher than other pollsters.

There is a chance that the dramatic narrowing of the polls – with one giving a lead for the Yes camp – has come too early for the nationalists as it makes all Scots realize that their votes count and concentrates minds. It is easy to vote for independence if you don’t think it’s going to happen and there is a week still to weigh up the consequences.

10 days to define the United Kingdom

The Flag of Scotland, the Saltire, blows in the wind near Berwick-upon-Tweed on the border between England and Scotland

The earthquake may be about to happen. Over the weekend the first opinion poll putting the independence campaign ahead landed with a resounding thump.

That prompted the UK government to rush forward to this week plans to spell out what further devolved powers Edinburgh would get if the Scots vote to stay on Sept. 18.

With the caveat that the last two dramatic polls have both been from one group – YouGov – and others have suggested “No” remains ahead, it seems momentum is well and truly with Alex Salmond.
In response, sterling has fallen about 1 percent in Asian trade to its weakest level in nearly 10 months. The pound has now dropped the best part of three percent against the dollar this month. The banks and other business will now be seriously alarmed as well.

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.

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.