European Union (EU)


Drug-dealers and their customers in the UK may be breaking the law, but at least they are making us richer. Illegal activities such as prostitution and drug dealing will add £10bn to the UK economy, the Office of National Statistics said today, as part of an overhaul of how we calculate national gross domestic productRead more

Ferdinando Giugliano

The importance of small and medium-sized enterprises as engines of job creation is a well-established economic fact. In countries such as Italy and Spain, SMEs account for 70-80 per cent of the workforce, and for a similar proportion of all newly created jobs.

Much less is known, however, about which kinds of SMEs are better at boosting employment. The SMEs universe is varied, but distinguishing between them is essential for governments to direct their economic policies in an effective way.

A study published this week by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development analyses in painstaking detail a database including SMEs from 18 countries over ten years. Its main finding is that among all SMEs, it is the youngest companies that contribute the most to boosting employment. Read more

Michael Steen

Blue sky thinking reaches Frankfurt (Getty)

Mario Draghi, European Central Bank president, has revived the idea of “reform contracts” — a policy that emerged in Brussels wonk circles last year and entails the EU contractually binding eurozone countries to economic reforms.

Speaking in Berlin on Monday, Mr Draghi told an audience of businesspeople that the eurozone needed two things to achieve sustainable growth: stabilisation and greater competitiveness.

To achieve the latter, he mentioned the need for “better ways of measuring economic performance – for example, more structural indicators of competitiveness.” And went on: Read more

Michael Steen

Last week anti-capitalist protesters outside the European Central Bank were dominating (at least the local) news in Frankfurt, this week it was the turn of the policymakers inside the building. The ECB is keeping its rates on hold at 0.5 per cent and Mario Draghi, president, has been quizzed on where the eurozone is headed.

The ECB staff’s quarterly economic forecasts have been tweaked, so this year’s contraction is greater than previously forecast at 0.6 per cent and next year’s growth forecast creeps up to 1.1 per cent (but then a year is a long, long time in economic forecasting.)

What else have we learnt? Read more

Michael Steen

Small change

Search the pockets, wallets, purses, car cigarette ashtrays and homes of anyone in (almost) any eurozone country and you are likely to find significant heaps of small, brown iron-and-copper 1 and 2 euro cent coins.

They cost more to make than they are worth, there’s precious little you can buy with them (though the German post office does sell a €0.03 stamp) and they tend to accumulate in drawers and on flat surfaces at an alarming rate. So, one might reasonably ask, why not just get rid of them? Read more

Michael Steen

You still need a strong constitution or a taste for gallows humour to read most eurozone economic statistics, as today’s release of the preliminary Q1 gross domestic product growth contraction data shows.

The bloc is now in its longest recession since the birth of the single currency, beating the post-Lehman Brothers slump in duration, though not in the depth of the downturn. Read more

Hello and welcome to the FT’s live blog on the European Central Bank’s rate decision and press conference. All eyes on Thursday are on the ECB and what it has left in its tool kit as gloomy data throws further doubt on the recession-bound eurozone economy.

Many economists are expecting what would largely be a symbolic cut in interest rates. The governing council’s vote is due at 12.45 (BST) and ECB President Mario Draghi will meet the press at half past one.

By Claire Jones and Lindsay Whipp. All times are UK time.


Michael Steen

One of the benefits of the European Central Bank’s new household finance and consumption survey is that it allows eurozone household data to be compared with that of the US, since the surveys use comparable methodologies.

The survey already caused something of a stir in Germany earlier this week because it appeared to show that the typical Cypriot household was better off than the typical German one. (In 2010, anyway, and subject to a lot of caveats and nuance, summarised in the story.)

Today’s ECB monthly bulletin also picks over some of the data in the HFCS and highlights this ability to compare data with the US Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances. One interesting tidbit it points out is quite how much wealth distribution differs between the US and (the euro-wielding corner of) Europe. Read more

Claire Jones

Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank. Image by DANIEL ROLAND/AFP/Getty Images.

Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank. Image by DANIEL ROLAND/AFP/Getty Images.

Hello and welcome to today’s live blog for European Central Bank president Mario Draghi’s first press conference of 2013.

Mr Draghi will begin speaking at 13.30. All times are UK time.



14.40 The live blog is now closed.

14.38 The ECB president struck a very upbeat tone at today’s presser.

Mr Draghi is clearly delighted with the recent developments in financial markets (see 13.46), though he warned against complacency on the part of governments and added that we were yet to see any signs of an economic recovery.

Because markets were a lot more positive, the governing council was unanimous in deciding to hold rates and no-one even bothered to discuss the option of a cut, which now looks unlikely to happen in the coming months.

14.30 The questions end. Recap to follow.

14.28 Contagion is now working in the eurozone’s favour. “There is a positive contagion when things go well and that’s what’s in play now,” he says.

Despite the recent progress made, however, Draghi say DON’T relax. Which is all well and good, but it doesn’t make for a decent t-shirt does it?

He urges governments to keep up the good work and continue to implement structural reforms.

 Read more

Welcome to a live blog of Mario Draghi’s press conference from ECB HQ in Frankfurt. With rates held and Mr Draghi already having worried investors with his remarks on Wednesday about a slowing German economy, attention will be on what more the bank’s president has to say about the main driver of Eurozone growth. Brought to you by Ben Fenton and Ben Hall.


14.47: That’s it for this live blog, but….

…the last word goes to the FT’s Frankfurt bureau chief Michael Steen (well it is his city and his newspaper). His view of the most interesting line from the Draghi press conference:

“Pressed on ways ECB might ease Greek funding problems, Draghi said the bank already agreed to send back any profits it made from Greek bond holdings to the central bank in Athens which could then be transferred to government. The ECB was “by and large done” helping Greece within its mandate he said.”

14.45: Here is an instant reaction from Howard Archer, chief UK & European economist at IHS Global Insight:

ECB President Mario Draghi appeared to ease open the door to a cut in interest rates over the coming months and potentially as soon as December. Potentially significantly when asked whether the ECB had discussed an interest rate cut at their November meeting, Mr. Draghi commented that “we always discuss all instruments.” This contrasted to his comments after both the September and the ECB meetings, when Mr. Draghi said that the ECB had not discussed cutting interest rates. Mr. Draghi also commented that the ECB stands ready to act on standard monetary policy as well as on non-standard policy. Interestingly, though Mr. Draghi indicated that the ECB had not discussed negative deposit rates (they were cut to zero in August).

Furthermore, Mr. Draghi acknowledged that the Eurozone growth situation and outlook had weakened recently, and hinted that the ECB’s GDP growth staff projections would be revised down in their December forecasts. The ECB’s statement observed that “most recent survey evidence for the economy as a whole, extending into the fourth quarter, does not signal improvements towards the end of the year.” Furthermore, the ECB considered that “growth momentum is expected to remain weak” in 2013, largely due to the need of balance sheet adjustments in both the financial and non-financial sectors, an uneven global recovery and high uncertainty. Mr. Draghi has also expressed concern recently over very high and rising Eurozone unemployment. Reinforcing this downbeat assessment of Eurozone growth prospects, the ECB statement observed that “the risks surrounding the economic outlook for the euro area remain on the downside.”

Meanwhile, the ECB’s view on inflation does not appear to preclude an interest rate cut in the near term. While the ECB expects Eurozone consumer price inflation to remain above 2.0% and at elevated levels for the remainder of 2012, the bank sees inflation “declining to below 2.0% again in the course of next year”. The ECB regards long-term inflation expectations as “well-anchored” and believes that underlying price pressures should remain moderate, with the result that current levels of inflation should be “transitory”.

 Read more

Michael Steen

The waiting game grinds on to see when (and it’s hard to find anyone who thinks it is an “if” rather than a “when”) Spain will apply to the EU’s rescue funds for a credit line that would allow the ECB to make use of its “outright monetary transactions” bond-buying programme. A repeated theme of the Spanish government has been to say it would like to know more details about OMT before tying itself fast to the fiscal conditions attached to a rescue programme.

Now some clarity from Benoît Cœuré, the ECB executive board member who oversees market operations, who spells it out:

We’ve been very clear on the modalities of the OMTs. They are ready and we’re not going to provide any more details.

 Read more

Michael Steen

The dust has yet to settle on the Bundesbank’s fight with the ECB over bond-buying, but this has not stopped Germany’s central bank from taking on another heavyweight global financial institution: the International Monetary Fund.

BuBa’s monthly report, published on Monday, includes a whole chapter entitled: “The IMF in a changed global environment.” It becomes clear fairly quickly that eyebrows are being raised in Frankfurt at some elements of the IMF’s stance in the eurozone sovereign debt crisis, where the Fund has taken on its own lending and acted as a member of the “troika” of IMF, ECB and European Commission officials advising on bailouts.

“By taking on excessive risks, the IMF would gradually transform from a liquidity-providing mechanism into a lending institution,” the bank says on the first page of its 15-page discussion. “Such a transformation would neither accord with the legal and institutional provisions of the IMF agreement, nor with the fund’s financing mechanism or its risk control functions.” Read more

Michael Steen

There is, in these troubled days for the eurozone, arguably a hint of Ozymandias-in-reverse about the enormous new €1bn headquarters that the ECB is building for itself on the eastern edge of Frankfurt.

The risk is not so much that a traveller will one day find “two vast and trunkless legs of stone” in a desert, but rather a vast and shiny glass-and-steel tower block near the river Main with no one in it. At least that might be the suspicion of those who think the euro may not last long enough to see the moving vans arrive from the centre of town in 2014, where the ECB now has its offices. Read more

Michael Steen

Watching the panel discussion on BBC’s Newsnight programme after the ECB’s announcement of its Outright Monetary Transactions policy last Thursday, a long-running criticism of central bankers was brought powerfully home even before any of the guests had opened their mouths.

For here was an all-woman group of qualified observers discussing decisions made in an environment so male-dominated it might as well be one of London’s traditional gentlemen’s clubs in St James.  The ECB has no women on its executive board and none of the 17 heads of eurozone central banks that join the executive board on the bank’s rate-setting governing council is led by a woman. And the ECB is far from an exception — women are exceptionally rare in central banks the world over.

Economists love to portray themselves as iconoclasts who follow the evidence and act rationally. So why is central banking gender politics so 19th century? Read more

Ralph Atkins

Mario Draghi. Image by Getty.

Mario Draghi. Image by Getty.

Hello and welcome to the live blog on ECB president Mario Draghi’s press conference.

The ECB’s monetary policy statement is due at 12.45. Mr Draghi’s press conference begins 45 minutes later.

All times are UK time.

14.54 This live blog is now closed.  Here are the main take-aways.

- The ECB could restart government bond buying – but there is no immediate intervention. The ECB “may undertake outright open market operations of a size adequate to reach its objectives,” Mr Draghi announced.

- But a “necessary condition” is that governments “stand ready” to activate EFSF/ESM’s bond buying tools. That would give the ECB political cover to act.

- No limit set to the size of possible ECB intervention. That’s a big difference to the ECB’s previous bond buying programme, which was described as “limited”.

- Financial markets are disappointed at the lack of immediate intervention. Spanish ten-year bond yields are above 7 per cent again.

- The ECB could also undertake “further non-standard monetary policy measures,” Mr Draghi said, without giving further details.

- The modalities of the ECB’s enhanced crisis response will be designed “over the coming weeks”.

- The Bundesbank opposed ECB bond buying, Mr Draghi acknowledged. That means it could still be an obstacle in weeks to come, undermining the ECB’s effectiveness.

- “The euro is irreversible,” Mr Draghi said.

- The main policy interest rate was left unchanged at 0.75 per cent.


14.53 Here is some scepticism from BNP Paribas.

The ECB did not change its monetary policy nor did it provide us with details about possible future actions. Stress on sovereign debt markets has to be addressed and the ECB could help. But once more, the ECB through the ball back in the politicians’ court. A restart of the SMP is possible, but distressed countries have to request help from the EFSF/ESM first…

14.47  Holger Schmieding, European analyst at Berenberg Bank, is more upbeat than financial markets:

“Draghi has delivered. And Germany should say thank you for that. Although the ECB did not start to actually intervene in bond markets today, Draghi sent a strong message that the ECB will do all it takes, including interventions in sovereign bond markets…This can stop the gradual slide of the German economy into recession and allow the overall Eurozone economy to return to growth around the turn of the year, with Germany likely to enjoy strong growth again next year.”

14.42   The lack of immediate action by the ECB has disappointed markets. Mary Watkins writes:

By mid afternoon, yields on 10-year Spanish debt were up 19 basis points at 6.91 per cent, while yields on benchmark Italian debt were 24bp higher at 6.17 per cent.

Spain’s Ibex index was up nearly 5 per cent, while Italy’s FTSE MIB was more than 3 per cent higher.

 14.32 The press conference is now over.

14.30 There will be “full disclosure” under the ECB’s revamped bond buying progamme, Mr Draghi said. Does that mean it will say how much of each countries bonds it has bought?

14.28 Mr Draghi explains what he meant by his statement that  the euro had to be “irreversible”. “It says ‘it is pointless to bet against the euro’.”

14.24 Here’s a good summary of the press conference so far for the Twitterati…

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14.22  By focusing bond buying on the shorter end of the yield curve, the ECB would remain consistent with “classical monetary policy,” Mr Draghi said. That was in response to a question about whether targeting longer term rates might have been of more help for the real economy.

14.20  Mr Draghi is keen to stress the sequencing: activation of the EFSF/ESB bond buying  instruments is a “necessary condition” for an ECB response, he argued. Actions by governments would be “as essential” as ECB action to restore its monetary policy transmission mechanism.

14.19 Julian Callow, European economist at Barclays, writes in a note:

We interpret this as a clear sign that the ECB is prepared to change policy significantly at its September meeting, in terms of purchasing debt without claiming seniority subject to the EFSF being deployed to buy government debt. Overall this is in line with our expectation; it still will depend on whether Spain and Italy (which have a summit now proceeding) will call upon the EFSF to do this.

14.15 Here is the FT’s updated news story Read more

Claire Jones

Mario Draghi. Image by Getty.

Mario Draghi. Image by Getty.

Welcome to Money Supply’s live blog covering ECB president Mario Draghi’s first press conference of 2012.

This post should update automatically every few minutes, although it might take longer on mobile devices.



14.36 The live blog is now closed.

14.34 The press conference ends. The euro is now up 0.72 per cent against the dollar for the day.

14.33 Mr Draghi on whether today’s successful Spanish bond auction was evidence of the Sarkozy/Noyer tradeRead more

Government debt markets are about trust. Before the crisis, all eurozone governments enjoyed the benefit of their collective trustworthiness, co-operation and solidarity in the form of favourable financing conditions that contributed to the wellbeing of Europe.

Investor trust in the eurozone has been badly shaken in the past two years. The image of co-operation and solidarity has been shattered. As 2011 came to a close, questions about the survival of the euro that would have been considered taboo earlier began to surface. Following Greece, a number of member states faced difficulties refinancing their debts or lost access to markets altogether, despite the implementation of unprecedented fiscal programmes.

 Read more

Claire Jones

Wondering where all of that cheap cash that the European Central Bank doled out earlier this week has gone?

Well it would appear a sizeable chunk of it has ended up back at the central bank. 

Yesterday the amount of cash that eurozone banks held on deposit at the ECB hit a new record high for the year of €346.994bn. That’s €133bn higher than at the start of the week. Read more

Claire Jones

Sir Mervyn King. Image by Getty.

Sir Mervyn King. Image by Getty.

Welcome to our live blog on Sir Mervyn King’s appearance at the Treasury select committee.

The governor has been called before the committee to field questions on the Monetary Policy Committee’s latest inflation report, which came out earlier this month.

Reporting by Claire Jones. All times are GMT.

17.16 This live blog is now closed.

17.14 Given that the hearing was supposed to be about the MPC’s inflation report, it was ironic that the governor ended up revealing more about what the FPC is likely to recommend in the financial stability report later this week. Read more

Claire Jones

The European Systemic Risk Board, the European Union’s macroprudential authority, has this evening called for the region’s supervisors to cooperate on efforts to strengthen bank capital.

The move comes less than a month after Christine Lagarde, the IMF’s managing director, was panned by many for calling for a recapitalisation of European banks.

This from the statement: Read more