MacroScope

EU’s top two — oh to be a fly on the wall

Who are the two most important people in the EU? It’s hard to argue against Angela Merkel and Mario Draghi and they meet today in Berlin.

It’s supposed to be a private meeting but of course we’ll be digging, particularly for any signs that the German leader is for or against the European Central Bank printing money if it is required to beat back deflation.

The German media responded negatively to last week’s measures, defaulting to the country’s historic fear of inflation stretching all the way back to the 1920s Weimar Republic although there is virtually no inflation in Europe’s largest economy at the moment. Merkel has given Draghi a fair wind in the past to initiate “unorthodox” policy measures.

Having unleashed a variety of measures last week, QE will not be unleashed soon – the ECB line is that the impact of the latest action will not be fully measurable until the year-end. But if inflation keeps falling from an already rock-bottom 0.5 percent, the pressure will mount well before then.
If German (and particularly Bundesbank) opposition to creating money is a crucial part of the jigsaw, so too is the range of opinion on the ECB Governing Council.

We’ve already seen glimpses, with ECB number two Constancio, Finland’s Liikanen, Belgium’s Coene and Makuch from Slovakia all saying more could be done – as did Draghi last week – while Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann declared it would be absurd to start talking about new measures now.

ECB aftermath; how firm is opposition to QE?

After the European Central Bank opened its toolbox and deployed pretty much everything it had left, bar printing money, the question is if and when QE becomes a live possibility.

ECB chief Mario Draghi pointedly said at his monthly news conference that all policy options had not been exhausted.
German resistance to such a move will remain, however, and Draghi’s deputy, Vitor Constancio, has already intimated that it will take until late this year to judge whether the latest gambits have made a difference before moving onto the next stage.

Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann is already out today saying the ECB has ventured onto new ground and that governments need to treat the move as a wake-up call to continue with economic reforms. He added that there was a risk that long-term inflation expectations could be de-anchored – ECB speak for deflation.

We need to talk about Juncker

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt will host Germany’s Angela Merkel, Britain’s David Cameron and Dutch premier Mark Rutte at his private residence over two days to discuss reforming the EU and ”achieving a more efficient EU that is focused on creating jobs and growth”. 

After EU elections delivered strong returns for far-right and far-left parties, EU leaders say they have recognized the need to refocus on what matters to their people. But at the same time, the orthodox camp is determined to keep bearing down on debt and the bloc’s heads are arguing over who should take the top jobs in Brussels which set the tone.

Cameron is publicly opposed to Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Juncker, who he regards as an arch federalist, becoming European Commission President though as the candidate for the centre-right EPP group of  parties which came top in the election he is in pole position.

Euro zone inflation data to set seal on ECB action

Euro zone inflation – due at 0900 GMT – is forecast to hold at a paltry 0.7 percent in May, in what European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has labelled the danger zone below 1.0 percent for the eighth successive month.

After German inflation fell to just 0.6 percent on the EU measure on Monday, well below forecasts, the bloc-wide figure could also undercut. We already know the Spanish and Italian inflation rates were just 0.2 and 0.4 percent respectively last month. If that comes to pass, any doubts about ECB action on Thursday, which are thin on the ground anyway, must surely be banished.

A clutch of senior sources have told Reuters the ECB was preparing a package of policy options for its meeting on Thursday, including cuts in all its interest rates and targeted measures aimed at boosting lending to small- and mid-sized firms (SMEs).

Signs of European dash for growth

The ripples of EU election results are being felt, no more so than in France where the National Front topped the poll.

The day after the results, Prime Minister Manuel Valls promised further tax cuts for French households. The government is already committed to a 30 billion euros cut in labour taxes to help business but insists all this can be done while meeting its EU deficit commitments.

Brussels has already given Paris an extra two years to get its deficit down to three percent of GDP. Today, the European Commission will produce updated country recommendations.

Gas talks resume

Fresh talks between Russia, Ukraine and the European Commission in Berlin will aim to resolve a gas price dispute that Moscow has warned could make it cut off supplies next week.

Ukraine has said the price for 2014 should be agreed before it starts making any payments. Russia’s energy minister has said Moscow and the EU have proposed that Kiev pay Gazprom $2 billion, and another $500 million before June 7, as a precondition for a price discount and further talks.

Gazprom said on Thursday it had not yet received any payments from Ukraine on a debt which it says will have risen to about $5.2 billion by June 7 unless Ukraine begins to pay it off. Kiev has countered that Gazprom owes it around $1 billion for gas following Russia’s seizure of Crimea.

Mixed results for right in early voting

The British and Dutch got EU elections underway yesterday and gave only mixed support to the rise of the right.

An exit poll from the Netherlands showed the anti-Islam, Eurosceptic Freedom Party of Geert Wilders’ – which plans to forge an alliance with France’s far-right National Front – had fallen well short of its goal of topping the poll and may even have slumped into fourth place. That would give it three out of the 26 Dutch seats in the EU assembly, down from four in the last elections held in 2009, when it came in second place.

Britain’s anti-EU UKIP seems to be doing much better. There were no indications of how the EU parliamentary vote had gone in Britain, we’ll have to wait for Sunday for that, but parallel local government election results showed a surge in support for the party.
With those results still coming in, Nigel Farage’s party – many call it a one-man band – had secured a net gain of 90 local council seats and was winning well over 20 percent of the vote, mainly at the expense of the ruling Conservatives.

PMIs next signpost for ECB

Following a mixed bag of euro zone GDP data last week which showed Germany charging on and Spain holding its own but France stagnating and Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands slipping back into contraction, flash PMI surveys for the euro zone, Germany and France certainly have the power to jolt the markets today.

As things stand, there seems little to dissuade the European Central Bank from loosening policy next month. Five senior sources told us it was  preparing a package of policy options for its early June meeting, including cuts in all its interest rates and targeted measures aimed at boosting lending to small- and mid-sized firms.

Bundesbank chief Jens Weidman speaks later. He told a German newspaper it was not yet certain that action would be taken in June. The three PMI readings are not expected to move much from April with the French numbers lagging those of the euro zone and Germany.

Elusive China gas deal

Vladimir Putin is well into his second and final day of a trip to China during which he was hoping to sign a long-sought gas deal with Beijing. There’s no sign of white smoke so far and if the Russian president leaves empty handed it would be a serious blow.

Gazprom has repeatedly said negotiations are in their final stages but it seems there has been no agreement yet on price and Moscow may have to lower its sights given the prospect of it losing business in Europe, which has been spooked into considering how to secure its energy needs elsewhere in future, has rather strengthened Beijing’s negotiating hand.

There has been a lot of talk in Russia about a pivot to the east but some analysts say that could never fully compensate for lost business with the West and if the China gas deal which could be worth $400 billion or more does not come to pass the strategy will look hollow. Late on Tuesday, a Putin spokesman said negotiators from both countries have been unable to bridge differences on price.

Putin desperately seeking gas deal

Ukraine seems to be in something of a holding pattern before Sunday’s election though the question of how those polls can be securely conducted in parts of the country where pro-Russian rebels want to secede remains a very live one.

We reported yesterday from Donetsk where officials working to prepare for the May 25 presidential poll described intimidation and threats from separatists which prompted them to shut down their office. The interior minister in Kiev has said it would be impossible to hold “normal elections” in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk which are home to nearly 25 percent of the electorate.

Moscow said yesterday that President Vladimir Putin had ordered Russian forces near Ukraine’s eastern border back to their bases, though NATO and the United States said they saw no sign of a pullback.