Financial crisis

The refusal of the Portuguese courts to authorise the full version of the latest round of austerity cuts will be watched closely in neighbouring Spain – which is, of course, a bigger and more systemically important economy. The Spanish fear that, economically and politically, Portugal offers a vision of their future. The recession there is deeper and so are the cuts to government spending. But with Spain facing another year of recession and cuts – the Spanish too are wondering how long their public will tolerate austerity. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

In the end, the Cypriots swallowed the bitter medicine. Facing national humiliation and a bleak future many complain their small nation has been forced to succumb to the will of a larger, merciless power – Germany.

What lies ahead for Cyprus and the eurozone?
After a failed bailout plan that involved taxing the deposits of small savers, Cyprus is now the epicentre of the eurozone crisis. Lawmakers are now seeking an alternative before Monday, when the European Central Bank will cut emergency liquidity to Cyprus’s foundering banks. Kerin Hope, Greece and Cyprus correspondent; Peter Spiegel, Brussels bureau chief; and Patrick Jenkins, banking editor, join Ben Hall to discuss what’s happened and what lies ahead.

By Gideon Rachman
European leaders must surely know that they are taking a big risk with Cyprus. The danger is obvious. Now that everybody with money in Cypriot banks is being forced to take a hit, nervous depositors elsewhere in Europe might notice that a dangerous precedent has been set. Rather than run even a small risk of an unwanted financial “haircut” in the future, the customers of Greek, Spanish, Portuguese or Italian banks might choose to get their money out now. If that starts to happen, the euro crisis will be back on again – with a vengeance.

By Gideon Rachman

Some months ago, I was discussing the euro crisis with a high-ranking US diplomat. “It’s back to the 1930s, isn’t it?” said my companion with a mixture of gloom and relish. “The extremists are on the rise.”

Politicians the world over have huffed and puffed about excessive pay at banks since 2008. While remuneration curbs were put in place, nothing fundamentally challenged bank operations, or their ultimate flexibility to reward staff. The European Parliament has bucked that trend with the mother of all bonus clampdowns. Here are five key questions on the cap: how it works, how you can avoid it, whether it will really pass and what it means for Britain and the City.

1. How is the cap calculated and applied?

The bonus text runs to just half a side of A4. The core measure is a mandatory 1:1 ratio on fixed/variable pay is applied to all EU banks and subsidiaries around the world, as well as non-EU banks operating in Europe. This ratio can rise to 2:1 with a 66 per cent shareholder vote, with a quorum of more than 50 per cent. If turnout is lower, the majority must be 75 per cent. Up to a quarter of the variable pay can be paid in long term instruments (deferred for more than five years), which track the health of a bank and can be clawed back. The value is discounted at a rate set by the European Banking Authority, which must take account of inflation and risk. Some details still need to be fleshed out. But MEPs predicted that even with the discount the maximum ratio would be closer to 2:1 than 3:1.

2. Are there any loopholes?

There are always loopholes. The question is whether it would make a material difference and allow banks to operate relatively unscathed. The obvious one is just raising fixed pay, but it has obvious shortcomings. The incentives for long term pay within the cap will likely be aggressively used. But even with the most banker-friendly discount rate calculation the ratio will not move much above 3:1. Other points of vulnerability could be the definition of fixed pay: could some of that effectively be a bonus? How the rules apply outside the EU and to non-EU institutions will also be important in determining whether bankers can be shuffled around the world to avoid the restrictions. Finally there is talk of some banks taking legal action against the provisions, but there will surely be a public relations downside to that.

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By Gideon Rachman

A rare beast has reappeared in Europe. In recent years, there were no confirmed sightings. But in the past few weeks, this shy animal – known as “good news” – has been spotted in various European locations.

(AP)

Friday’s events from the World Economic Forum feature an address by Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, and sessions looking at the challenges faced by, and presented by, the fast-changing Arab world. Reports from FT writers in Davos and by Ben Fenton, Lina Saigol and Lindsay Whipp in London

17.03: The Davos Live Blog is closing down now but for more reading and insight on today’s events, please visit the FT’s in depth page on the World Economic Forum.

16.41: Gideon Rachman, titular proprietor of this blog, has written his surmise from the earlier session on Syria.

16.16: Asked by the Amercian moderator of his panel session about corruption and banking regulation, Nigeria’s central bank governor Sanusi displays a little frustration:

He said: “We are the only country which has taken people out of banks and put them in jail. No bankers in your countries have gone to jail.”

16.12: Martin Wolf has recorded his view on the politics and economics at play in a “low-intensity” Davos this year:

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There was a big kerfuffle in October when the IMF made a point of saying that it (along with a bunch of other forecasters) had underestimated the effect of fiscal tightening on European economic growth over the past couple of years, with obvious implications for the troika’s austerity programmes for the likes of Ireland, Greece and Spain.

The admission got some predictable pushback from troika members who have drunk deep from the austerian well. It was also questioned by my colleague Chris Giles, who pointed out that the results were highly sensitive to the inclusion in the sample of outlier countries – especially Germany (which, despite its frugal prescription for others, has itself followed expansionary fiscal policy and enjoyed good growth) and Greece (the opposite) – and possibly the exclusion of the Baltic states, which followed aggressive fiscal tightening to better effect than Greece. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

Everybody agrees that economic and political power is moving east. Barack Obama has constructed a whole new foreign policy around this theory – the “pivot to Asia”. But, as I assemble my annual list of the five most important events of the year, it is striking how events in Europe and the Middle East still dominate.


Welcome to our live coverage of the eurozone crisis. We’ll bring you all the developments. By Tom Burgis and Ben Fenton in London with contributions from FT correspondents across the world. All times are GMT.

 

 

17.37: As the EU’s political leaders get down to talks, we are closing down the live blog for today, but it will be up again bright and early tomorrow to pick up on whatever is decided overnight. Meanwhile, elsewhere on FT.com you’ll be able to find coverage of the summit kept fresh by our sleep-deprived Brussels team.

17.29 More bleak news for the UK’s Triple A credit rating, via FT markets editor Chris Adams:

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/chrisadamsmkts/status/279275102162522112"]

17.24 More twists and turns in this tale of what said what to whom about the Italian elections at the centre-right EPP’s pre-summit meeting today (see 15.49 and 17.06).

Antonio Tajani, the Italian EU commissioner and a Berlusconi ally, is quoted by Italian news agency Adnkronos as saying that none of the leaders of the EPP “expressly asked Monti to be a candidate”.

“Everyone spoke well of Monti but no one wants to interfere.”

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What’s holding up a European banking union?
When European leaders resolved to finally solve the eurozone crisis, they swore that that a banking union would be a crucial part of the solution and that agreement would be in place by the end of this year. But with the latest negotiations bogged down, what’s happened and does it pose a threat to financial stability in Europe? Patrick Jenkins, banking editor, and Alex Barker, Brussels correspondent, join Gideon Rachman to discuss.

With friends like these…. Jean-Claude Juncker and Christine Lagarde. (AFP)

It’s not as if the troika of eurozone rescue lenders never falls out, but usually it takes a not-in-front-of-the-children attitude to airing its rows. A refreshing change on Monday night, as my colleagues Peter Spiegel and Josh Chaffin report, when the eurogroup summit, while not actually deciding anything substantive, made sure it would stand out from the dozens of other such gatherings by hosting a very public argument between the eurogroup’s Jean-Claude “We all know what to do, we just don’t know how to get re-elected after we’ve done it” Juncker and the IMF’s Christine Lagarde.

The actual substance of the spat looks laughably trivial. It’s about whether Greece hits its 120 per cent of GDP debt target in 2020 or in 2022, which, given the huge uncertainties in forecasting debt dynamics, is about as precise as a Florida election count. The 120 per cent target is itself pretty arbitrary, apparently based on what seems to be sustainable in Italy, which is a very different country with a more flexible economy and captive domestic investor base for government bonds. Read more

Fans of Obama rhetoric went into ecstasies last night over the president’s victory speech.

Here was the old Obama back: strong, confident, with his preacher’s cadences – appealing for a better future and reprising the themes that first shot him to national prominence in 2004: the unity of the nation, the ability to overcome the differences between red and blue America.

The fact that Mitt Romney also made a gracious and conciliatory speech and that senior Republicans are talking of finding compromises have led to some hopeful talk of a new spirit of bipartisanship, allowing America to skirt the fiscal cliff – and tackle a few other big challenges besides.

I’m afraid I don’t buy it. I think the Republican Party will return to Washington in an embittered and angry mood. Read more

On Tuesday, the editor of the Financial Times, Lionel Barber, gave the commencement address at Barcelona’s Esade Business School. His theme was the eurozone crisis – but he began with a story from the earlier, headier days of the new millenium, when the Spanish economy was displaying “sustained dynamism”, in the words of the IMF.

In the summer of 2001, I interviewed José María Aznar and Silvio Berlusconi in successive weeks. Aznar was at the height of his powers. He had just successfully pressed for better budget terms at an EU summit, and boasted of quietly smoking a fat cigar until Chancellor Schroeder and others came round to his demands.

A few weeks later I was in Rome at Silvio Berlusconi’s private villa next to the Spanish steps. Inside, the roses were purple, the ceilings were high and the women statuesque. When I insisted in conducting my interview in French, il Cavaliere responded by crooning an old Edith Piaf song. Then I mentioned I had just interviewed his old friend Aznar at the Moncloa. “Well,” said Mr Berlusconi, suddenly serious, “Spain is a great success story. Madrid is one of the great cities, bustling with commerce and trade. If Italy does not reform, it will be overtaken by Spain in the next decade.”

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By Gideon Rachman

“This is what you have to do, if you want the people to build statues of you on horseback.” Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was doubtless being whimsical when he urged his colleagues to make bold decisions about the future of Europe. But the former French president’s remark offers a telling insight into the mentality that created the great euro-mess of today.

Is the worst over in the eurozone?
With the ECB committed to unlimited purchases of eurozone bonds, the German Constitutional Court in a forgiving mood, and the Dutch electorate surprising pundits by voting for pro-euro candidates, is the worst over in the euro crisis, or, with Spain still teetering, is this just another false dawn? Tony Barber, Europe editor, and Peter Spiegel, Brussels bureau chief, join Gideon Rachman.

Demonstrators outside the Spanish parliament on Sept 25 clash with police during a protest against spending cuts. Photo: Getty

The political gulf opening up between Spain’s growing separatist movement in the richest province Catalonia and the government of Mariano Rajoy, backed by King Juan Carlos and the Spanish military, has spooked the markets and provoked much debate in the press about whether Spain can survive in its present form. The country’s increasingly precarious financial position has also tilted the country further towards disaster.

In the FT:

The eurozone crisis now threatens the survival of a nation-state, writes David Gardener. The decision of Catalonia’s nationalist government to call a snap election in November – which in practice will amount to a referendum on independence – has opened the way to Catalan secession, and may give a lift to Basque separatists. “As a Spain trapped in the eurozone crisis tries to battle its way through a wrenching recession, it must now contemplate the real possibility that its plurinational state, which replaced the suffocatingly centralist Franco dictatorship with highly devolved regional government, may break up.” Read more

Welcome to our rolling coverage of the eurozone crisis. German judges have ruled in favour of the eurozone’s rescue plans – albeit with conditions, Dutch voters are going to the polls and Brussels publishes plans for eurozone-wide banking supervision. By Tom Burgis, John Aglionby and Ruona Agbroko on the London  newsdesk with contributions by FT correspondents around the world. All times are BST.

16.51 That’s a wrap for our live coverage of a big day in the eurozone. The message of the past week seems to be: all hail the ECB. See ft.com for more news and analysis through the evening. We leave you with a last summary of the market mood from Ralph Atkins, the FT’s capital markets editor.

Markets have reacted positively to today’s news but it had largely been priced-in – the party took place last week. Spanish 10 year bond yields which have fallen by some 200 basis points since late July dropped a further six points. Spanish two year bonds were down 10 basis points. Shares rose initially, but the FTSE Eurofirst 300 index is closing more or less unchanged at 1108.0.

16.26 In Frankfurt, FT bureau chief and eurozone economics guru Michael Steen has been assessing the impact for the ECB of moving into the murky world of banking regulation.

By taking on oversight of eurozone bank supervision, the ECB can at best hope to prevent situations arising in which a bank needs to be bailed out and its depositors repaid. But, as people inside the ECB have themselves acknowledged, supervision is very far removed from the intellectual world of setting interest rates.

“When you deal with banks, you deal with politics. Automatically,” one senior ECB official said. “It’s very dangerous.”

The full piece is coming soon to ft.com/europe Read more

By Gideon Rachman

The European Central Bank has fired its magic bullet. By promising “unlimited” purchases of sovereign bonds, Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, may have kept his pledge to do “whatever it takes” to save the euro. But in rescuing the currency, Mr Draghi’s magic bullet has badly wounded something even more important – democracy in Europe. Read more