Chris Bryant

Chris Bryant is the FT's Frankfurt correspondent covering German industry. His previous roles include central and eastern European business correspondent, Berlin correspondent, Washington correspondent and markets reporter in New York.

Unless you have recently constructed a skyscraper or tried to cool a fizzling Japanese nuclear plant it’s fair to assume that Putzmeister, a German maker of concrete pumps, is not a familiar name.

Yet news that Putzmeister, whose pumps were used at Fukushima, is set to be acquired by China’s Sany Heavy Industry has put the Mittelstand company, based near Stuttgart, firmly on the map. 

In a year when consumers were confronted by fears of another recession and retirement pots were undermined by plunging stockmarkets, Volkswagen’s ability to sell 8m vehicles is impressive by any measure.

A substantial chunk of its 14 per cent sales increase last year came, of course, from China, where sales rose by 17 per cent to 2.25m units. But as chief executive Martin Winterkorn glanced over the figures at the Detroit motor show, he will not have failed to notice the perfomance of a market where the German carmaker has traditionally struggled: India. 

China's Yang Zhou (R), Germany's Aika Klein and Hungary's Erika Huszar compete in the Women's Short Track Speedskating 1000m heats at the Pacific Coliseum in VancouverHungary pulled off a big coup on Wednesday when it was announced that Chinese premier Wen Jaibao will visit Budapest next week as part of a five-day European tour.

Wen’s subsequent appointments in the UK and Germany will doubtless attract more attention from the world’s media, given the eurozone’s present woes. 

In credit rating terms, Hungary has been standing in the naughty corner for the past six months. One false move and recalcitrant Budapest faced the credit-equivalent of being turfed out of the school classroom, by having its debt downgraded to junk status.

Monday’s decision by Fitch to revise its outlook on Hungary’s debt from “negative” to “stable” is the first tacit recognition by one of the three big rating agencies that Hungary has at last started doing its homework. 

Hungary’s central bank kept interest rates on hold at 6 per cent on Monday, as analysts had uniformly predicted.

The decision reinforces the more settled outlook surrounding Hungarian assets which emerging market investors have viewed in a much more positive light of late. 

Romania’s exit from recession after two years in the doldrums was one of the indisputably good pieces of emerging market news on Friday.

Romania endured some of the continent’s toughest austerity measures last year. (Any public sectors workers in western Europe fancy a 25 per cent pay cut? No? Thought not.) So Romanians can give themselves a collective pat on the back. 

Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the ratings of seven Hungarian banks on Tuesday reminding investors that the country’s economic problems will not be solved overnight

The rating agency’s intervention came as something of a surprise, given the sunny tone of financial news wafting from Hungary of late and a sharp rebound in Budapest’s markets. 

Hungary’s freshmen rate-setters served up few surprises on Monday as the Magyar Nemzeti bank kept rates on hold at 6 per cent per cent.

Analysts had given the chance of a rate cut short shrift after all four new members of the seven-member monetary policy committee made market-friendly noises about guarding against inflation during their recent nomination hearings. In any case one of the new members did not attend Monday’s meeting. 

What on earth is going on at Emfesz? Hungary’s largest independent gas distributor is embroiled in a bitter ownership dispute; a Swedish court has ordered it to hand over more than $500m for allegedly unpaid-for gas; and its customers base is disappearing like leaking gas.

Can the company hold out? Not a problem, it says. Just a matter of “finding its place among the new circumstances”. 

But large crowds also attended an Orban speech nearby, though there were reports that some were paid to do soNext month marks the first anniversary of prime minister Viktor Orban’s thumping election victory – an event that radically transformed the political and investment climate in Hungary.

In a defiant address on Tuesday, Orban boasted he had resisted “diktats” from Brussels and had stood up for Hungary against an array of other malignant forces, among them the IMF, banks, stock exchange sharks and foreign critics.

But in the unorthodox political tennis match between Orban on one side and government critics, foreign investors,  the European Commission and European Central Bank on the other, who is really winning? 

Andras SimorAnyone expecting sparks to fly on Monday when Hungary revealed its new appointments to the central bank’s monetary policy committee might be feeling a touch deflated.

Instead of appointing four new members to the seven-member committee, only two new rate-setters were announced – both of whom are economists and former central bank employees. Moreover, their immediate comments betrayed few signs of an impending radical departure in monetary policy, leaving Hungarian assets broadly unchanged. 

Face liftAs beyondbrics can reveal, Hungary has appointed Financial Dynamics, a London financial PR firm, to help restore its battered public image and persuade the investment community that economic policy is on the right track.

Presumably ministers have taken full account of FD’s experience in advising the crisis-hit governments of Greece and Iceland as well as debt-laden Dubai World – although it’s unlikely either FD or Budapest would wish you to dwell on the comparison. 

Investors have been waiting months for the Hungarian government to announce its fiscal reform package. But when the day finally came it was rather a damp squib.
The headline figures announced by economy minister Gyorgy Matolcsy and deputy prime minister Tibor Navracsis on Tuesday were broadly in line with expectations. Even still, Hungary’s Budapest SE, the main stock exchange, fell 1.9 per cent from an opening price of 23,308.07. It was down 1 per cent at 22,873.91 in afternoon trading. 

Hungary’s central bank kept interest rates on hold at 6 per cent on Monday, ending a recent tightening cycle.

The decision was no surprise given January’s favourable inflation numbers and a recent contraction in Hungary’s CDS spreads (a measure of risk assessment). As with mastering the Hungarian language, however, the situation is far from straightforward. 

Trajan Basescu, president of RomaniaThey may not be surprised but investors will certainly feel a degree of relief that Romania has decided to seek a new €5bn precautionary loan with the International Monetary Fund and European Union.

Perhaps wisely, Bucharest has chosen not to follow the example of neighbouring Hungary which decided last summer that it could do without the advice of this roving band of fiscal policy wonks.