MacroScope

Franco-German meeting

German Finance Minister Schaeuble and his French counterpart Sapin attend news briefing after talks in Berlin

The big question of the week is whether financial market gyrations continue, worsen or calm. European stocks are being called higher at the open.

Greece has been effectively shut out of the bond market. If it and others on the euro zone’s southern flank come under persistent market pressure, in a way that hasn’t happened for two years, the onus on the European Central Bank to act will grow and grow.

None of the countries likely to be in the firing line appear to qualify for the conditions attached to the ECB’s still-unused OMT bond-buying programme, the legality of which is under review by the European Court of Justice.

So full-on QE might be the only option to restore calm if the turmoil persists or worsens. We’re a long way from that yet and internal divisions within the ECB may rule it out altogether. Maybe that dawning realization, as the Federal Reserve prepares to turn the money taps off, has contributed to the unnerving of investors.

It is possible that if European bank stress tests – to be unveiled next Sunday – give a cleanish bill of health, credit and lending will start to flow again. But that will only happen if the demand for funds is there, and that is questionable, particularly at the rates banks are prepared to lend.

French budget to fire EU growth debate

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France is unveiling its 2015 budget right now and it’s not making pretty reading, confirming that Paris will not get its budget deficit down to the EU limit of three percent of GDP until 2017, years after it should have done.

The health minister has said the welfare deficit is expected to run nearly one billion euros over budget this year and data on Tuesday showed France’s national debt hit a record high in the second quarter, topping two trillion euros for the first time. It will near 100 percent of GDP next year.

All this is predicated on growth picking up and the proportion of national income going on public spending will fall only glacially.
French President Francois Hollande and Italy’s Matteo Renzi are leading a drive to use the maximum amount of flexibility within EU rules to allow a bit more spending or lower taxes to get growth going – French Finance Minister Michel Sapin has just said the pace of budget consolidation in the euro zone must be adapted to reflect the reality of a stagnant economy.

France flatlining

We get a flood of EU GDP reports today. Germany’s figure, just out, has marginally exceeded forecasts with quarterly growth of 0.8 percent but France is underperforming again and stagnated in the first three months of the year, missing estimates of 0.2 percent growth.

Robust German growth has been driven largely by domestic demand, which could help its European peers with their exports. Where all that leaves the overall euro zone figure, due later, remains to be seen. The bloc is predicted to have expanded by 0.4 percent.

Spain has already come in with 0.4 percent quarterly growth and others could pick up too so once again France is looking like one of the sicker men of Europe. High debtors Italy and Portugal are expected to eke out at least some growth.

Amnesty for undocumented immigrants would not burden U.S. economy – Levy Economics Institute

The recently passed Senate bill – S. 744, or the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act – that would take significant steps toward comprehensive reform, is being held up in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, with a “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants the apparent sticking point.

A recent report from the Congressional Budget Office estimated the following:

All told, relative to the committee-approved bill, the Senate-passed legislation would boost direct spending by about $36 billion, reduce revenues by about $3 billion, and increase discretionary costs related to S. 744 by less than $1 billion over the 2014-2023 period.

Nathan Sheets and Robert Sockin at Citigroup are even more sweeping in their endorsement of immigration’s economic upside:

France under the spotlight

An IMF team will conclude its annual review of the French economy and hold a news conference this morning.

It’s a safe bet that the Fund’s prescription will be similar to that of the EU and most other interested observers – the two extra years France has been given by Brussels to meet its debt-cutting targets must be used to liberalise and reform its economic structures. That was certainly Angela Merkel’s message to President Francois Hollande last week and also implicit in the Franco-German position paper which is intended to lay the ground for an EU summit at the end of the month.

The paper apparently contained a string of concessions from Germany – such as accepting a full-time president of the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers and paving the way for the next stage of a European banking union by accepting a “resolution board” to deal with restructuring or winding up failed banks, although that would be based on national authorities not the central body advocated by the European Commission and European Central Bank.

Reform hue and cry

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy meets labour union and business leaders to discuss reforms to pensions and public institutions. After some fairly brutal cutting, Rajoy has grown more cautious. He is negotiating a new formula for calculating pension payoffs but is wary of going further for fear of sparking greater protest. And all the time, recession put the country’s debt targets further out of reach.

There’s still some pretty serious stuff on the table. Rajoy’s cabinet has proposed a “stability factor” for the pension system, which would periodically adjust pay-outs and retirement age based on economic performance, demographics and other factors. The government is also studying a major reform to public administrations that could mean numerous job cuts in the public sector at a time when unemployment is at 27 percent.

The EU has granted France, Spain and others more time to meet their deficit targets in an attempt to foster some growth. But it is also insistent the pace of structural reforms must be stepped up. The French parliament voted through labour reforms on Tuesday which will make hiring and firing somewhat easier. President Francois Hollande will hold a rare news conference having travelled to Brussels yesterday to declare he would use the leeway to boost competitiveness and growth. Details? There were none. The European Commission will spell out its recommendations at the end of the month.

MIT’s Johnson takes anti-Dimon fight to Fed’s doorstep

Simon Johnson is on a mission. The MIT professor and former IMF economist is trying to push JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon to resign his seat on the board of the New York Fed, which regulates his bank. Alternatively, he would like to shame the Federal Reserve into rewriting its code of conduct so that CEOs of banks seen as too big to fail can no longer serve.

Asked about Dimon’s NY Fed seat during testimony this month, Bernanke argued that it was up to Congress to address any perceived conflicts of interest.

But Johnson says the Fed itself should be trying to counter the perception of internal conflicts. He told reporters in a conference call:

An eerie euro zone calm

I don’t want to be the idiot who asked “is it all over?” … but is it all over?

Almost certainly not, is the answer. Greece is shored up for now but Portugal will probably need to follow it in seeking a second bailout and Spain, heading back into recession, will have to make deep, deep cuts over the next two years to meet EU deficit targets. Greek and French elections could easily upset the apple cart, the former producing a fractured government with less will to tread the austerity path, the latter a new president who wants to renegotiate the bloc’s new fiscal rules (though neither are guaranteed).

In Italy, a lot of faith continues to be placed in Monti but the proof of his ability to deliver the structural reforms needed to regalvanise the economy has yet to be seen. On that front, the Italian government is talking with trade unions during the week on radical reform of labour market rules, with the aim of clinching a deal next week.

from Mike Dolan:

Sparring with central banks

Just one look at the whoosh higher in global markets in January and you'd be forgiven smug faith in the hoary old market adage of "Don't fight the Fed" -- or to update the phrase less pithily for the modern, globalised marketplace: "Don't fight the world's central banks". (or "Don't Battle the Banks", maybe?)

In tandem with this month's Federal Reserve forecast of near-zero U.S. official interest rates for the next two years, the European Central Bank provided its banking sector nearly half a trillion euros of cheap 3-year loans in late December (and may do almost as much again on Feb 29). Add to that ongoing bouts of money printing by the Bank of England, Swiss National Bank, Bank of Japan and more than 40 expected acts of monetary easing by central banks around the world in the first half of this year and that's a lot of additional central bank support behind the market rebound.  So is betting against this firepower a mug's game? Well, some investors caution against the chance that the Banks are firing duds.

According to giant bond fund manager Pimco, the post-credit crisis process of household, corporate and sovereign deleveraging is so intense and loaded with risk that central banks may just be keeping up with events and even then are doing so at very different speeds. What's more the solution to the problem is not a monetary one anyway and all they can do is ease the pain.

from FaithWorld:

U.S. Catholic CEO responds to Benedict’s economic encyclical

charity-in-truthPope Benedict's encyclical "Charity in Truth" proposed a sweeping reform of the world economic system from one based on the profit motive to one based on solidarity and concern for the common good. Like other such documents in the Roman Catholic Church's social teaching tradition, the encyclical delivers a strong critique of unbridled capitalism. This can be uncomfortable for Catholics who champion free enterprise and some conservative Catholic writers reacted quickly and critically. One of them, George Weigel, wrote the encyclical "resembles a duck-billed platypus." (Image: Charity in Truth/Ignatius Press)

We wanted to hear the views of a Catholic executive, one who's involved in business rather than reacting from the sidelines. So I called Frank Keating, president and chief executive officer of the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI). The former Republican governor of Oklahoma (1995-2003) is a former chairman of the National Catholic Review Board, which he said "sought to identify and correct the horror of sexual abuse on the part of the clergy." He is a Knight of Malta and a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre.

DB: What's your overall reaction to the encyclical?

keatingFK:"I haven't read the 30,000 words but I think what the pope is proposing is not inconsistent with other papal messages. The common denominator to all of them is the worth of the individual, the dignity of every human person. So Benedict XVI focuses on the right to life, he speaks against euthanasia, he speaks against the evil of abortion, he speaks against cloning. But at the same time he talks about duties and responsibilities to the vulnerable because the vulnerable are dignified human beings as well as those who are rich and powerful.