MacroScope

Escalation in Crimea

Worrying escalation in Crimea. Interfax reports Russian servicemen have take over a military airport in the Russian-speaking region of Ukraine and armed men are also patrolling the airport at Crimea’s regional centre of Simferopol.
Kiev has condemned the moves as an “armed invasion”.

There has been no bloodshed and there are more constructive noises from Moscow to weigh in the balance.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his government to continue talks with Ukraine on economic and trade relations and to consult foreign partners including the IMF and the G8 on financial aid.

This is a developing theme from Moscow, military muscle flexing on the one hand while making encouraging noises about an aid package for Ukraine on the other. The interesting thing is this is the first time Putin has put his name to the call for financial help. Which impulse will prevail is the $64 million question. 

The United States has told Russia to demonstrate it was sincere about its promise not to intervene in Ukraine.

Euro election fever

We will return on Monday knowing whether the Greeks have elected a pro-bailout government and probably to find socialist Francois Hollande – the man leading the growth strategy charge – as the new French president. 

An Hollande victory could cause some jitters given his rhetoric about the world of finance. But we’ve looked at this pretty forensically and there may not be much to scare the horses. Yes he is making growth a priority (but even the IMF is saying that’s a good idea) yet his only fiscal shift is to aim to balance the budget a year later than incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy would. Contrary to some reports, he is not intent on ripping up the EU’s fiscal pact and of course the bond market will only allow so much leeway.

The heavyweight Economist magazine may have labelled socialist Hollande “dangerous” but the reality is likely to be that he will rule from the centre and his demands for a dash for growth — and a change to the ECB’s mandate to aid it — will be tempered. Spain has shown everybody that too much fiscal loosening will be pounced upon by the bond market and while there is a lot of talk about a growth strategy for Europe, what we’ve heard so far amounts to tinkering.

A curate’s egg — good in parts

An action-packed weekend with both good and bad news for the euro zone, which may — net — leave its prospects little clearer.

Item 1: The IMF came up with $430 billion in new firepower to contain the euro zone-led world economic crisis, although some of the money will only be delivered by the BRICS once they have more sway at the Fund. Nonetheless, the figure at least matches expectations and could give markets pause for thought. The official line is that it is for non-euro countries caught up in the maelstrom but no one really believes that. If a Spain is teetering, IMF funds will be there. Together with the 500 billion euros rescue fund set up by the euro zone, there is still barely enough to ringfence both Italy and Spain if it came to it. But will it come to it?

Item 2: Socialist Francois Hollande came out top in the first round of the French presidential election and is now a warm favourite to win. Some fear that could weaken the Franco-German motor which must be humming smoothly if further crisis-fighting measures are to be convincing. Others say he is essentially a centrist who, either way, will be constrained by the realities of the euro zone situation. Domestically, his focus on tax rises over spending cuts and a slower timetable for cuts could drive up French borrowing costs. Attempts by Hollande and President Nicola Sarkozy to woo the substantial votes that went to the far right and far left could lead to some nerve-jangling campaigning messages for the markets to swallow in the run-up to the May 6 second round.

Euro zone looks to Washington

So the debt crisis is back (did it ever really go away?) but it’s not yet anything like as acute as it was late last year.

Spain is coming under real market pressure, and dragging Italy with it to an extent, but there are good reasons to think it won’t fall over; banks well funded for now and the government’s savvy move to take advantage of benign early year conditions to shift almost half its 2012 debt issuance in three months.

Madrid faces another key test with a Thursday bond auction. Two weeks ago, it suffered its first wobbly debt sale for some months. The turning point is pretty clear – Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s decision to rip up Spain’s agreed deficit target for 2012 without consulting his partners. Since then, Spanish borrowing costs have soared though given the amount of debt Madrid has already shifted, that might not be as damaging as it was.