MacroScope

EU cuts off Russian banks, puts ball in Moscow’s court

Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to reporters during a meeting in Brasilia

True to its word, the EU agreed sweeping sanctions on Russia yesterday, targeting trade in equipment for the defence and oil sectors and, most crucially, barring Russia’s state-run banks from accessing European capital markets. The measures will be imposed this week and will last for a year initially with three monthly reviews allowing them to be toughened if necessary.

There was no rowing back from the blueprint produced last week – having already agreed to exempt the gas sector – and the United States quickly followed suit, targeting Russian banks VTB, Bank of Moscow, and Russian Agriculture Bank, as well as United Shipbuilding Corp.

That is important. Both sides are striving to shut down alternative sources of capital for Russia’s financial sector although there has already been some reaching out to Asia. Gazprombank held a two-day roadshow with fixed-income investors in Seoul last week.

Shares in Russia’s second-largest bank VTB have opened down 3 percent while the broader stock market and the rouble were stable. Russia’s central bank has said it will support the country’s banks if needed. With nearly $500 billion in FX reserves it could clearly do so for quite some time.

Previously Europe had imposed sanctions only on individuals and organisations accused of direct involvement in threatening Ukraine, and had shied away from wider “sectoral sanctions”. But the shooting down of the Malaysian airline changed the political calculus.

ECB: talk but no action

EThe European Central Bank holds its monthly policy meeting and after launching a range of new measures in June it’s a racing certainty that nothing will happen this time. However, ECB President Mario Draghi has plenty of scope to move markets and minds in his news conference.

We are still waiting for details of the ECB’s new long-term lending programme which is supposed to be contingent on banks lending the money on to companies and households. Last time they got a splurge of cheap money, the banks largely invested in government bonds and other financial market assets. With euro zone yields now at record lows, the ECB would not like to see a repeat.

Draghi will certainly be asked to clarify what looked like a new attempt at forward guidance. Last month, the ECB offered up new four-year loans to banks, and extended its offer of unlimited liquidity to the end of 2016.

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.

A question of gas

Vladimir Putin will meet senior Russian government officials to discuss Russia’s economic ties with Ukraine, including on energy after state-controlled natural gas producer Gazprom said Kiev missed a deadline to pay a $2.2 billion bill.

In previous years, gas disputes between Moscow and Kiev have hurt supplies to Europe. The Ukraine government has said it would take Russia to an arbitration court if Moscow failed to roll back gas price hikes.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russian agents and special forces of stirring separatist unrest in eastern Ukraine, saying Moscow could be trying to prepare for military action as it had in Crimea. Armed pro-Moscow protesters occupied Ukrainian government buildings in two cities in the largely Russian-speaking east.

Decision day for Kiev … and Moscow

Decision day for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich as he heads to the Kremlin seeking a financial lifeline while demonstrators in Kiev gather again to demand he steps down.

Vladimir Putin seems set to agree a loan deal, and possibly offer Ukraine a discount on the Russian natural gas.
It seemed he was the only game in town after an EU commissioner said the bloc was suspending talks on a trade agreement with Kiev. But yesterday, European Union foreign ministers said the door remained open, which in a way makes Yanukovich’s predicament harder.

Does Russia really need this? Politically yes, but economically? Ukraine is seeking help to cover an external funding gap of $17 billion next year and is in no position to pay for its gas.

Humdrum summit

A two-day EU summit kicks off in Brussels hamstrung by the lack of a German government.

Officials in Berlin say they want to reach a common position on a mechanism for restructuring or winding up failing banks by the end of the year but with an entire policy slate to be thrashed out and the centre-left SPD saying the aim is to form a new German administration with Angela Merkel’s CDU by Christmas, time is very tight.

On banking union, a senior German official said Berlin had no plans to present an alternative plan for how a resolution fund might work at the  summit and reiterated Berlin’s stance that national budget autonomy for winding up banks could not be outsourced.

Can we have a German government please?

Angela Merkel’s CDU and the centre-left SPD have agreed to begin formal coalition talks conditional on securing support from a meeting of 200 senior SPD members scheduled for Sunday. The party is scarred by its experience of coalition in the last decade, when its support slumped, but it’s probably the lesser of two evils since a new vote would be quite likely to increase Merkel’s support. She only just missed out on a rare overall majority first time around.

Assuming Sunday’s vote gives assent, talks proper will start on Wednesday. Hold your horses though. An entire policy slate will have to be thrashed out so the betting is an administration won’t be in place until late November at the earliest. In the meantime, euro zone policy negotiations are pretty much on hold.

To prove that point, an EU leaders’ summit on Thursday and Friday is unlikely to break new ground although of course all the hot topics such as banking union will be discussed.

High inequality makes it tougher to reform economies: Swedish Finance Minister

Americans are all too acquainted with the shouting-match politics that tends to accompany any debate over economic policy: everyone is yelling and nobody is listening. The toxic political discord in Washington has become so familiar it is almost a cliché.

It turns out high levels of income inequality, which the United States is also famous for, could be to blame. According to Anders Borg, the Finance Minister of Sweden, a large wealth gap makes it harder to achieve political consensus because the debate is poisoned by mistrust. Speaking at the Peterson Institute this week, Borg said high inequality in Southern Europe was a factor preventing those countries from achieving agreement as they struggle with a deep financial crisis:

You need to deal with the social cohesion issue. You cannot have a society where the conflicts that are built in become so strong that you undermine the political ability to deal with problems. If I compared Sweden with Spain or Italy or Greece, one of the reasons we have been able to these reforms is that our income differences are substantially lower which also means that the political tension is on a completely different level.

from Global Investing:

Can Eastern Europe “sweat” it?

Interesting to see that Poland wants to squeeze out more income from its state-owned enterprise (SOE) sector in the face of slowing economic growth and financing pressures.

Warsaw wants to double next year's dividends from stakes in firms ranging from copper mines to utility providers to banks.

Fellow euro zone aspirant Lithuania has also embarked on reforms aimed at increasing dividends sixfold from what UBS has dubbed "the forgotten side of the government balance sheet". It wants to emulate countries such as Sweden and Singapore where such companies are managed at arm's length from the state and run along strict corporate standards to consistently grow profits.

Will Fed policy go the Swedish route?

The Federal Reserve’s long-quiet doves are becoming increasingly louder about championing more aggressive forms of monetary easing, including possibly setting employment and inflation targets and/or engaging in another round of bond purchases. Most prominent among these have been Charles Evans, the Chicago Fed president who openly favors more transparent policy guidance and Eric Rosengren, who told CNBC on Wednesday a third round of monetary easing could be in store:

If the economy were to be weaker than most people are forecasting, that would certainly be cause for doing additional monetary policy.

Rosengren also said he favors more explicit policy targets, which could take a rather controversial form known as price-level targeting. Under this arrangement, the Fed would temporarily shoot for higher inflation to make up for the almost deflationary readings seen late last year, in an effort to boost investment, spending and hiring.