Want to know what the ECB is going to do? Watch the German PMI

A sudden turn for the worse across German companies should clinch an interest rate cut from the European Central Bank next week, or in June at the latest.

That’s because the latest PMI surveys, which have a decent correlation with economic growth, suggest the German economy  shifted back into reverse this month, against the expectations of economists.

And the one thing the ECB’s Governing Council never allows to pass is any sign that Germany, Europe’s No.1 economy, is floundering.

The German composite PMI has only ever crossed under the 50 point mark that separates growth and contraction on four occasions since Sept. 2008, including Tuesday.

On the previous three occasions, an ECB rate cut followed immediately after publication of the final data, or the month after.

France’s downturn is more significant than you think

The huge downturn in French businesses was by far the most disappointing aspect of this week’s euro zone PMIs, which again painted a dismal picture of the euro zone economy.

Maybe it’s because grim euro zone PMIs come around with depressingly familiarity these days, but economists on the whole had surprisingly little say about this.

Still, the March survey delivered some major landmarks relating to France.

Most obviously, its services companies endured their worst month since February 2009, practically at the nadir of the Great Recession of 2008-09.

Beware: UK services PMI is no crystal ball for QE

Take with a pinch of salt economists who say Tuesday’s strong UK services PMI  might persuade the Bank of England to hold off from restarting its printing presses this week.

BoE policymakers been perfectly willing over the last few years to vote in favour of more asset purchases after a rise in the services PMI number.

Only the last decision for more quantitative easing — July 2012 — came after a decrease in the services PMI’s main index. While members of the Monetary Policy Committee rely on the PMIs as a monthly gauge of economic activity, it’s clear the surveys can’t be read as any proxy for policy decisions.

The euro zone today – strikes, reform and recession

The euro zone economy looks to have contracted at a faster pace in March, according to the latest purchasing managers’ data, hours after ECB President Mario Draghi declared the worst of the debt crisis to be over. A mild recession appears to be in prospect with the probable exception of Germany.

The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Even if the existential threat to the currency bloc has passed, many of its members face years of economic hardship yet. With China’s equivalent report also coming in weak, the short-term signs are not auspicous.

Italy’s largest trade union has called a strike for the near future over Prime Minister Mario Monti’s labour reforms which have been rehardened to make it easier to fire not just workers in new jobs but right across the labour force. The prime minister says he won’t negotiate further given he has the support of other unions as well as employers groups. However, there is room for “fine tuning” today and tomorrow. The CGIL union has called for an eight-hour general strike with more to follow.