Europe

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. 

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. 

Tom Burgis

Mark Carney, the incoming governor of the Bank of England, was grilled by MPs and his ECB counterpart Mario Draghi faced awkward questions. By Tom Burgis, Ben Fenton and Lina Saigol in London with contributions from FT correspondents. All times are GMT.  

Ralph Atkins

The European Central Bank’s fears about inflation appear to be materialising. Eurozone “core,” or underlying, inflation has reached the highest level in more than two years, according to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical office. Excluding volatile energy and unprocessed foods, consumer prices rose at an annual rate of 1.8 per cent in April – up from 1.5 per cent in March and the highest since January 2009. The surge suggests higher headline inflation rates caused by commodity prices are feeding through into broader price pressures.

The late timing of Easter might have distorted the figures by delaying usual price-cutting offers. The ECB is also not a big fan of “core” measures, which it sees lagging indicators of underlying trends. Jürgen Stark, executive board member, once described them as “well suited for central bankers who don’t eat or drive”. 

Ralph Atkins

Another barrage of warnings this morning from European Central Bank policymakers about the dangers of a Greek debt restructuring. Jürgen Stark, executive board member, told Bavarian radio that Greece was “not insolvent” and that a restructuring “wouldn’t be a solution to the problems that Greece needs to overcome”. But Athens should not assume international bail outs were a “bottomless well” he warned.

A different – and novel - argument was made by Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, his board colleague, the gist of which was that eurozone governments should not allow themselves to be pushed around by financial markets. 

Ralph Atkins

It is a brave luncheon speaker who chooses Finnish monetary policy between the first and second world wars as his subject. But Mervyn King, Bank of England governor, just pulled it off at a conference in Helsinki, marking the 200th anniversary of the country’s central bank. (Read the speech here.)

King may have selected his off-beat subject to avoid generating unwanted headlines – there was a strong media presence following the European Central Bank’s meeting here on Thursday. But it was also a subject close to his heart – and is more compelling than you might thing. 

The European Central Bank has left its main interest rate unchanged at 1.25 per cent but is expected to confirm a bias towards another increase in coming months as it combats surging eurozone inflation.

The decision to hold fire on Thursday was expected. Jean-Claude Trichet, president, prefers not to surprise financial markets. However, at its meeting in Helsinki, Finland – one of two occasions each year when it gathers outside its Frankfurt home – the ECB’s 23-strong governing council is thought to have plotted the timing of its next move. 

With Mario Draghi, Italy’s central bank chief, looking almost certain to become its next president, the European Central Bank is set for a significant change of style – but not necessarily in strategic direction.

Under Jean-Claude Trichet, whose eight-year mandate expires on October 31, the ECB secured an inflation-fighting reputation in the tradition of Germany’s Bundesbank. During the eurozone debt crisis, the central bank acted as a crucial backstop, pumping liquidity on a huge scale into the banking systems of Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain. More recently, it has taken a much tougher line in insisting politicians take action themselves. 

Greece needs time to convince international investors about its reform programme and may not be able to return to financial markets next year as planned, its finance minister has admitted.

George Papaconstantinou’s comments in a Financial Times interview highlight how Greece continues to struggle to turn its economy round almost a year after the launch of an €110bn European Union and International Monetary Fund bail-out. They may fuel speculation that European leaders will have to find fresh ways of alleviating Greece’s debt problems to avert a default scenario. 

Turkey’s banking industry could be damaged unless the central bank reverses last year’s decision to stop paying interest on required reserves, the head of one of the country’s biggest lenders claims.

Suzan Sabanci, chairman of Akbank, told the Financial Times that new rules requiring banks to lodge 15 per cent of short-term lira deposits with the central bank risked fundamentally weakening banks unless they received interest in compensation. “The government is trying to be cautious that the economy doesn’t grow too fast. And I agree with that,” she said. “But we need to be recompensed. They should start paying interest in six months’ time.”