Eurozone

Reuters

The European Central Bank has scaled back its quantitative easing programme from €80bn to €60bn a month from April 2017 and will extend it to the end of next year, in a move that responds to hawks’ concerns about ultra-loose monetary policy but which could unsettle markets. It has held rates as expected.

The ECB insists the step is not equivalent to the US move to gradually “taper” QE that unsettled markets in 2013, instead it argues the move could see it buy more bonds under the extended programme.

Key points

  • ECB holds rates at 0% but extends QE to December 2017
  • Level of bond buying programme cut to €60bn per month from April 2017
  • Asset purchase parameters broadened, including halving of minimum maturity to 1 year
  • Sovereign bond prices recover as Draghi insists tapering has not been discussed
  • Euro slides against the dollar

By Gemma Tetlow and Gavin Jackson

 

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi Announces Interest Rate Decision

The European Central Bank’s governing council has kept interest rates on hold and once again reaffirmed plans to maintain its quantitative easing programme at €80 billion to March 2017 or beyond if needed.

President Mario Draghi SAYS that the next meeting on 8 December “will define the coming months” as he warns the eurozone is subject to “downside risks”. He says there has been no discussion about extending QE beyond next March but that “an abrupt end” to quantitative easing is “unlikely”. He says the governing council had discussed “various options in case we are confronted with a shortage of purchasable bonds in some jurisdictions”

Key points

  • Interest rates are kept on hold in October

  • The ECB’s asset purchase target is unchanged at €80bn per month

  • Draghi signals next meeting in December will be key

  • Draghi says no discussion about extending QE beyond next March

By Mehreen Khan and Gavin Jackson

 

It is possible, of course, that the Greek crisis will once again derail their plans. But as things stand, one subject under discussion at a Brussels summit of European leaders on June 25-26 will be how to improve economic governance in the 19-nation eurozone.

The most succinct explanation for why Europe’s leaders must get their act together on economic governance appeared in a speech last November at the University of Helsinki by Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank president. He said: “Doubts over the viability of EMU [European monetary union] will only be fully removed when we have completed it in all relevant areas. This means banking and capital markets union; it means economic and fiscal union. In a monetary union, no policy area can be seen in isolation.”

What a shame that these fine words, and various thoughtful proposals for enhanced eurozone integration that are circulating in EU capitals, appear likely to produce next to nothing in terms of concrete progress at the Brussels summit. It will be a wasted opportunity – or, to put it more strongly, yet another wasted opportunity. Read more

On Friday we will find out how the eurozone’s economy performed in the final quarter of last year. Analysts think the figures, out at 10am GMT from Eurostat, the European Commission’s statistics bureau, will show output grew by 0.2 per cent between the third and the fourth quarters.

That figure is far from spectacular in a region where the economy remains smaller than before the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Yet a positive number will feed hopes that the conditions are in place for 2015 to be a better year for the region’s economy. Read more

Once again, I attended a small dinner of “friends of Europe”. We enjoyed a lively discussion of a number of recent and prospective policy decisions. And, again, we had a series of votes.

Here are the questions and the results of the votes. (Not everybody voted on all issues.) The answers suggest, most significantly, continued informed nervousness about the future of the eurozone, despite recent action by the ECBRead more

A top adviser at the European Court of Justice has said that the European Central Bank’s crisis-fighting Outright Monetary Transactions programme falls within policy makers’ mandate.

Q: That’s pretty much a green light for quantitative easing next week isn’t it?

 Read more

Most euro area governments and investors are breathing a sigh of relief after Wednesday’s preliminary judgment from the EU’s highest court in favour of the European Central Bank’s sovereign bond-buying programme – the 2012 initiative that helped to bring the euro crisis under control.

But governments and investors, in and outside Europe, should keep in mind that the danger of a bitter, protracted struggle over EU constitutional law will now go up. This would pit Germany against other power centres in the EU. Read more

Which of the eurozone’s 18 member states will be the weakest performing economy in 2015?

Italy, which has recorded no economic growth since 1999? Cyprus, which is still reeling from its financial sector collapse in 2012-13? Or some other hard-pressed southern European nation? No. In all probability, the sick man of the eurozone will be Finland.

The Finnish economy is in its third consecutive year of contraction. Any growth in 2015 will be not much bigger than a snowflake. The country will hold a general election in April. The question is whether the dark outlook will benefit The Finns, a populist-nationalist party which was known as the True Finns when it shocked Europe by coming third in the 2011 election with 19 per cent of the vote. Read more

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Speaking on television earlier this year, Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, declared that his government’s budget would not be written to “satisfy Brussels”, adding – “We are a great nation . . . France is a sovereign country.”

The European Central Bank will today flesh out details of its plan to buy bundles of loans sliced and diced and repackaged into products known as asset-backed securities, alongside covered bonds.

With growth stuttering and inflation falling to a five-year low, some fuel for the eurozone’s recovery is much needed.

The ABS plan could provide it, freeing up space on banks’ balance sheets to spur lending to the region’s businesses and households.

Why is the ECB doing this now? Read more

By Gideon Rachman
At the beginning of the year, I gave a talk about “geopolitical risk” to a big conference of investors. I trotted briskly around the course: Russia, the Middle East, the South China Sea, the eurozone. Afterwards, I was having coffee with one of the other speakers, a celebrated private-equity investor, and asked him how much he thought about geopolitical risk.

The consensus, such as it is, on the eurozone crisis was neatly summed up on Monday by Hugo Dixon, author and editor at large of Reuters News: “The euro crisis is sleeping, not dead.”

What about the crisis in Greece? Over the past four to five years Europe, supported by the International Monetary Fund, has invested more time, effort and money in Greece than in any other struggling eurozone state. The aim is to reform a country so inefficiently governed, so riddled with corruption and so burdened with debt that it seemed, for certain spells in 2011 and 2012, to pose a threat to the eurozone’s survival.

So it seems reasonable to ask: if this time, effort and money have not changed Greece for the better, what has it all been for? Read more

  • If the eurozone FTT were adopted by the UK it would probably amount to a big tax cut for the City, but the British are still unlikely to support it because they are so allergic to EU taxes, says the FT’s Alex Barker.
  • Wealthy foreign investors have long used offshore companies to hold property in London, but the scale of the practice is raising eyebrows: between 1999 and 2012 nearly 100,000 UK properties were bought through foreign companies.
  • Central banks are using specific regulatory tools to tackle credit and house price growth, rather than raising interest rates, but there are questions over whether this regulation can stop a boom.
  • MI5 warns British corporate chiefs that foreign intelligence agencies are targeting their IT workers, hoping to use them to gain access to sensitive computer systems.
  • Vox explains Middle East history and the big stories in the region through the medium of maps.

 Read more

As the televised brawls between Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader and deputy prime minister, and Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-EU Ukip party have recently shown, the quality of political discussion in Britain is rarely so low as when the topic in question is the European Union.

All the same, sanity and thoughtfulness on the EU issue can still be found in British public life. For this we should thank, among others, the House of Lords, the much misunderstood but invaluable upper house of parliament. Read more

♦ Farhan Bokhari speaks to those on the front line as the Taliban tightens its grip on Pakistan society.

♦ After annexing Crimea, Russia moves to carve up the spoils. Guy Chazan reports from Simferopol.

♦ Russia’s revanchism has to be stopped, even for Russia’s own sake, argues Martin Wolf.

♦ Putin’s well-trained, stealthy army is not like the feeble one that invaded Afghanistan, warns David Ignatius in The Washington Post.

Reuters’ Breaking Views asks whether the eurozone should heed Japan’s deflation lessonsRead more

About twelve months ago, as I was travelling across the Northeast of Italy during the electoral campaign, I went hunting for evidence of mounting euroscepticism across voters. Overall, my search was rather unsuccessful. Italy’s long love-story with the euro and the EU more generally was certainly under strain, but its end did not look in sight. By and large, the people I spoke to continued to consider Brussels a source of economic stability and peace.

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  • Ivan Krastev in Foreign Affairs looks at why Putin threw caution to the wind: “to bring about a constitutional crisis that will remake Ukraine into a confederate state with a very weak centre”.
  • Neil Buckley critiques Putin’s classic performance as he broke his silence on Ukraine.
  • Money flows from power in China: the richest members of China’s parliament saw their average wealth increase more than four times over the past eight years, compared with an increase of under three times for the 1,000 wealthiest people identified in the country. Those who wanted to leave the country however, were less lucky – a group of wealthy Chinese are threatening to sue over Ottawa’s abrupt cancellation of its Immigrant Investor Scheme.
  • “Mandarinisation” is making people in Hong Kong indignant.
  • As the European Central Bank prepares to conduct stress tests and asset quality reviews of hundreds of banks across the eurozone, there is particular worry among some European regulators about Italy’s banks.

 Read more

GEORGES GOBET/AFP/GettyImages

Here is a startling prediction from the European Commission. In the absence of comprehensive economic reforms, living standards in the eurozone, relative to the US, will be lower in 2023 than they were in the mid-1960s.

This forecast, contained in the Commission’s latest quarterly report on the euro area economy, deserves to be displayed prominently on the wall of every president and prime minister’s office in Europe.

It is a sobering prediction for two reasons. First, it contrasts starkly with the comforting tales of economic recovery and financial market stability on which Europe’s leaders are congratulating themselves in these early weeks of 2014. Second, it raises profound questions about Europe’s relative weight in the world and, in particular, about its military alliance and economic partnership with the US. Read more