MacroScope

Putin – is he ready to deal?

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Poroshenko are due to meet on the sidelines of the EU/Asia summit in Milan today to try to find a way out of the Ukraine crisis.

Germany’s Angela Merkel and French President Hollande will also meet the pair as part of a four-way contact group. The Kremlin has just said Putin and Merkel have “serious differences”.

Although Putin announced this week that Russian forces near the border with Ukraine would be pulled back, Western officials want to see clear evidence that Moscow is withdrawing troops and military equipment from east Ukraine. The Ukrainian and Russian presidents spoke by telephone on Tuesday and discussed measures to restore peace.

The other big question is whether gas supplies to western Europe from Russia, via Ukraine, will continue unchecked through the winter. Any interruption would deal another blow to already struggling EU economies. On Thursday, Putin threatened to cut gas supplies to Europe if Ukraine steals from the transit pipeline to cover its own needs.

Russia cut off supply to Ukraine in June over what gas exporter Gazprom said were billions of euros in unpaid bills. There is concern Ukraine might have to siphon off gas from flows crossing the country en route to Europe this winter. EU stress tests published on Thursday showed the European Union could intervene to prevent gas shortages in the event of disruption to flows from Russia.

ECB in the dock

Protestors left some barbed wire in front of the euro sign landmark outside the headquarters of the ECB before its monthly news conference in Frankfurt

The European Court of Justice holds a first hearing on the legality of the European Central Bank’s Outright Monetary Transactions programme. There won’t be anything definitive today but it serves to rekindle debate about the limits of the ECB’s powers.

In February, the German Constitutional Court asked the European Court to rule on the legality of OMT, the mechanism that drew a line under the euro zone crisis when it was unveiled in 2012. The court may give guidance about how best to make a final ruling which is expected in late spring next year.

The scheme has never been deployed because the mere threat of action prompted government borrowing costs to tumble to record lows. Now, the debate is centred on whether the central bank should start printing money to ward off a deflationary downward spiral.

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.

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.

Euro zone recovery snuffed out

A BMW logo is seen the wheel of a car in Mexico City

A glut of euro zone GDP data is landing confirming a markedly poor second quarter for the currency area.

The mighty German economy has shrunk by 0.2 percent on the quarter, undercutting the Bundesbank’s forecast of stagnation. Foreign trade and investment were notable weak spots and the signs are they may not improve soon.

France has fared little better, flatlining again in the second quarter. That has forced the French government to confront reality, saying it would miss its deficit target again this year and cutting its 2014 forecast for 1 percent growth in half. There was no mention of the 2015 goal when France’s public deficit is due to come into line with the EU’s 3 percent of GDP cap, but Finance Minister Michel Sapin said Paris would cut its deficit “at an appropriate pace”.

ECB’s fingers crossed for private loans growth

Mostly bereft of policy options except for outright quantitative easing, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi hopes that hundreds of billions of euros more in cheap loans to banks will boost inflation.

The jury will be out for a long time before we get any decision on whether they have worked.

The first two rounds of cash, worth over one trillion euros and administered as an emergency shock treatment to a patient on the verge of breaking up, helped keep the euro zone alive. 

Draghi vs Weidmann

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European Central Bank President Mario Draghi makes a lengthy appearance in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. He will doubtless reassert that the ECB would start printing money if necessary but, as we reported last week, policymakers are fervently hoping they won’t have to and that a raft of measures announced in June will do enough to lift the economy and inflation.

Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann fired another broadside over the weekend, saying rates were too low for Germany and policy should remain expansive for no longer than absolutely necessary.

With less than a week to run to the July 20 deadline for a deal, Iran and the six world powers are miles apart on Tehran’s nuclear programme. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday major differences persist – largely over uranium enrichment —  with Iran and Tehran did not demur.

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.

Juncker begins to fill in the gaps

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European Commission president-elect Jean-Claude Juncker will hold talks with the various political groupings in the European Parliament as he seeks to develop policy positions. Most interesting would be indications about which way he is bending in the growth versus austerity debate.

Italy’s Matteo Renzi, resurgent after a strong performance in May’s EU elections, is pressing for a focus on measures to get the euro zone economy firing and has even managed to get Germany to talk the talk. But any leeway will be within the existing debt rules, not by writing new ones.

We know from the history of the euro debt crisis that Berlin can only move so far, so fast and only last week it proudly proclaimed it would not be a net borrower of zero next year, for the first time in over 45 years. Having said that it has just passed into law a generous national minimum wage and its labour costs are rising, so there is some rebalancing going on.

Balance tilted in Ukraine?

slaviansk.jpgUkrainian forces pushed pro-Russian rebels out of their stronghold of Slaviansk on Saturday. Its re-capture represents Kiev’s most notable military victory in three months of fighting in which more than 200 Ukrainian troops have been killed as well as hundreds of civilians and rebels.

The regions of Donetsk and Luhansk are likely to be next in the government forces’ crosshairs.

Talks between Iran and the six world powers –  the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – over its disputed nuclear programme stretch through the week, leading up to a July 20 deadline which has been set for a definitive deal.
Most diplomats involved in the talks expect that date to lapse though we reported exclusively that Iran has reduced demands for the size of its future nuclear enrichment programme.