MacroScope

Nearing a gas deal

A pressure meter and gas pipes are pictured at Oparivske gas underground storage in Lviv region

Russian and Ukrainian energy ministers are due to meet European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger in Brussels after presidents Petro Poroshenko and Vladimir Putin said they had agreed on the “basic parameters” of a deal to get gas flowing to Ukraine again this winter.

Russia cut off gas supply to Ukraine in mid-June following more than two years of dispute on the price and said Kiev had to pay off large debts for previously-supplied gas before it would resume supply.

Putin also threatened to cut gas supplies to Europe if Ukraine steals from the transit pipeline to cover its own needs this winter. Any interruption to flows to western Europe, via Ukraine from Russia, would deal another blow to already struggling EU economies.

The two sides still differ over how to calculate Kiev’s huge gas debt and the schedule for payments and Poroshenko has already said Ukraine will need help to pay the bill.

After the United States air-dropped arms to Kurdish fighters defending the Syrian border town of Kobani against Islamic State militants, Turkey said it would allow Iraqi Kurdish fighters to reinforce. Ankara will facilitate the passage of peshmerga forces, who are already fighting IS in Iraq.

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.

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.

Market selloff – blip or new crisis?

A trader watches the screen in his terminal on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York

A two-day summit of EU and Asian leaders, which was going to be most notable for a meeting between the heads of Russia and Ukraine, risks being overtaken by financial market tremors which have spread worldwide.

There’s a good case that markets, primed with a glut of new central bank money, had climbed to levels which the state of the economies that underpin them did not justify. With the Federal Reserve about to turn its money taps off, investors seem to have woken up to poor growth prospects in much of the world.

On the other hand, yesterday’s sell-off was sparked at least in part by some sub-par U.S. data and it’s hard to argue that prospects for the world’s largest economy have suddenly taken a turn for the worse.

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.

Battle lines drawn

Germany's Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schauble speaks during a discussion during the World Bank/IMF annual meetings in Washington

The predictable battle lines were drawn at the G20/IMF meetings in Washington – most of the world urged Europe to do more to foster growth while Germany warned against letting up on austerity. The argument will doubtless be reprised today when euro zone finance ministers meet in Luxembourg.

Given a ghastly run of German data last week and sharp cuts to its growth forecasts by the IMF and Germany’s economic institutes, Berlin’s stance looks increasingly odd but Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble continued to make it abundantly clear he will not countenance any more public spending in the one European country that could really afford it.

Writing cheques won’t fix Europe, he stated bluntly.

If there was anything new it appeared to be the intensity of the response. This from European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi: “For governments that have fiscal space it makes sense to use it. You decide to which countries this sentence applies.”

Greek confidence vote

A Greek and an EU flag flutter in front of the temple of the Parthenon during the takeover ceremony of the six-month rotation of Greece's EU Presidency in Athens

Greece’s ruling coalition will hold a confidence vote in parliament this evening in an effort to end speculation that the country may be facing snap elections early next year.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras wants to use the vote to gain support for his candidate in a presidential vote. Under Greek law, parliament must be dissolved if a president cannot be elected. The radical leftist Syriza, which has a sizeable lead in opinion polls, has pledged to block Samaras’s pick.

Athens has begun talks with the EU and IMF inspectors on life after its bailout. The coalition is hoping an exit will rally Greeks fed up with years of austerity, but it faces a series of hurdles in pulling that off, including convincing EU/IMF lenders it can finance itself without problems.

A first for British politics

Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP drinks a pint of beer in the Gardeners Arms pub in Heywood near Manchester

By this time tomorrow, the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party is likely to be celebrating its first member of the Westminster parliament. Polls have just opened in the deprived seaside town of Clacton where the sitting Conservative lawmaker switched to UKIP and called a vote.

A second member of the ruling Conservative party has now defected to UKIP and will force another by-election before long leaving the party on tenterhooks over who might be next. Many fear they will lose their seats at the May 2015 general election as UKIP splits their vote.

Could that be enough for them to turn on David Cameron? Maybe not but if they did go for a new leader they would inevitably want someone who was more anti-European with all the implications that would have for a planned referendum on EU membership in 2017.

Shocking German figures

A new Mercedes AMG GT super sports car rim is seen during a factory tour for journalists at the Mercedes AMG headquarters in Affalterbach

After a stunning fall in German industrial orders for August – the 5.7 percent monthly drop was the largest since the global financial crisis raged in 2009 – industrial output for the same month has just plunged by 4.0 percent, also the biggest fall in five years.

After Europe’s largest economy shrank in the second quarter there had been hope of a pick-up in the following three months but the thrust of recent data suggests it will be lucky to achieve any expansion at all.

At the same time, the government – particularly finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble – vehemently rejects calls from euro zone and G20 peers for greater efforts to get growth going.

Draghi tries to keep show on the road

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The European Central Bank has one of its two offsite policy meetings of the year, in Naples. After a glut of measures last time it’s inconceivable that further action will be taken now but there is plenty to ponder.

A first tranche of cheap four-year loans has been offered to banks in the hope they will lend it on but the take-up was poor. The ECB is playing up the prospects of a second round in December after bank stress tests are out of the way. But having pledged to add the best part of 1 trillion euros to its balance sheet to rev up the euro zone economy, there is a lot of ground to cover.

Draghi will flesh out the ECB’s parallel plan to buy bundled-up loans – asset-backed securities – which has already been viewed with disquiet by Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann. That may be heightened by the realisation that if the ECB is to open the offer to banks across the euro zone, it may have to take in some rather dicey looking collateral from the likes of Greece and Cyprus.