MacroScope

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.

Over the weekend, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported an ECB study which showed one trillion euros of new money would raise inflation by just 0.2 percentage points, while another model came up with 0.8 points. We have established the studies do exist and if they are believed it’s hard not to conclude that the bar for instigating QE remains high, whatever the rhetoric.

At the IMF, the debate about growth over austerity will be reignited after the Fund urged the ECB to do more and a reshuffled French government said new tax cuts might mean it takes longer to meet its EU budget deficit targets.

The Iranian thaw

A landmark deal curbing Iran’s nuclear programme in return for a loosening of sanctions appears to be underway, an agreement intended to buy time for a permanent settlement of a decade-old standoff.

Under the deal, Iran must suspend enrichment of uranium to a fissile concentration of 20 percent. An Iranian official has just said Tehran will start its suspension of uranium enrichment up to 20 percent in a few hours.

EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels and are expected to suspend some sanctions against Iran in line with the Nov. 24 interim agreement if as expected, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog confirms Tehran is meeting its end of the bargain.

ECB to the rescue? Hold your horses

ECB policymakers from Mario Draghi down will come at us from all angles today. Expect a united front on the main theme of the moment; calls for it to consider yet more liquidity operations essentially creating money and/or resuming its government bond-buying programme. That call was first heard at the IMF spring meeting over the weekend and the ECB president’s response could hardly have been clearer, saying: “None of the advice of the IMF has been discussed by the Governing Council, in recent times at least”.

Since then a number of his colleagues have followed up. The message: they are looking more to inflation now and banks and governments have to put their own houses in order after the ECB gave them time with its colossal three-year money-creating exercise.
The ECB’s man in Spain, Gonzalez-Paramo, is already out this morning saying Spain will not struggle to meet its debt issuance target this year despite its rising yields.

The ECB will, of course, act if the crisis drives Europe right back to the brink, it’s mandate will pretty much demand it at that stage but we’re not anywhere near there yet – contrary to what many in the markets believe.

Euro zone goes Dutch

So the euro zone debt crisis morphs again and there is a hint of schadenfreude about the Dutch, who lectured and hectored the Greeks, now falling into the same mire.

The Dutch premier, Mark Rutte, will probably try to cobble together an unholy alliance in parliament in order to meet an April 30 EU deadline for it to present budget plans for the next year. But with elections not until late June at the earliest, there will be an unnerving period of vacuum for the markets and no guarantee that opposition parties will play ball and allow a budget to be put together.

Given all that, today’s Dutch bond auction, not normally a cause for alarm or excitement, is thrown into sharp relief. Expect yields to spiral although the small amount on offer means the paper will be sold. Italy is selling zero-coupon and inflation-linked bonds while Spain,  which remains front and centre despite the Netherlands’ travails, will probably see borrowing costs double when it sells up to 2 billion euros of 3- and 6-month treasury bills. Spanish 10-year yields poked above the pivotal 6 percent level again yesterday as the Dutch government collapse rocked markets. The Bank of Spain confirmed on Monday that a new recession has taken hold.