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 product

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. 

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: 

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? 

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? 

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. 

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. 

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.

 

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”.