Tuesday, September 23, 2014

PARIS – There is something misleading about the current political excitement on both sides of the Seine. The ouster of three rebel ministers by a surprisingly firm president, a government reshuffle, a standing ovation delivered at Medef, the employers’ union, for the Socialist prime minister who dared to proclaim, “I love business!”: All the action was set in Paris. Yet one could fantasize that, some 900 kilometers away, Berlin’s invisible hand was quietly at play.
Germany determines so much of France’s economic life these days that it seems like the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in our political process. Last week’s crisis erupted when the economy minister, the leftist Arnaud Montebourg, called for an alternative economic policy, in an interview with Le Monde. Nothing really new there, but he went one step too far when he launched an attack on Germany. “We need to raise our voice,” Montebourg said. “Germany is caught in a trap of austerity that it has imposed across Europe.”
Prime Minister Manuel Valls didn’t wait long to let it be known that Montebourg had crossed a “yellow line,” when his office declared: “An economy minister cannot use such words … to talk about a European partner.” Unlike President Obama’s red lines, yellow lines in France are usually enforced. Two days later, Montebourg was out.
To France, Germany is not just any “European partner” – it is the most important partner. Together, these two founding members of the European Union are supposed to form “an engine,” “a tandem,” “a couple.” They are the pillars of Europe.
But the Franco-German engine has stalled. Battered by the euro crisis, the famous couple is decoupling. The imbalance between the German economy, strengthened by reforms launched by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder well before the crisis struck, and the French economy, unable to recover its competitiveness, is so deep that it is ruining the whole European dynamic.
On Aug. 22 the German newspaper Handelsblatt dedicated a cover story to “The French Patient” and “the economic decline of what used to be a proud nation.” In “A Tour of France: Examining the New Sick Man of Europe,” Der Spiegel this summer poked fun at those French people dreaming of having “la mannschaft” instead of “le malaise.”
Fifteen years ago, Germany was “the sick man of Europe.” Today it is France’s turn. One difference, though, is that 15 years ago the common currency, the euro, was just being launched. Today both economies are much more integrated and must enforce a common budgetary policy. Thanks to the strength of the German economy, Berlin has the upper hand.
President François Hollande has gone through phases about this. Early in his term, he antagonized Chancellor Angela Merkel by trying to head a group of Southern European countries favoring pro-growth policies. It was a disastrous mistake. A master of compromise, he then tried to recover using his left wing, allowing Montebourg and his friends to vent their anger at home against Bismarck and Merkel’s “intransigence,” while ostensibly trying himself to play the perfect partner in the Franco-German couple. That didn’t work either.
Desperate to get the French economy back on track, Hollande is trying something new: a government unanimously committed to his vision of structural reforms and a team that won’t utter a word against the German economic line.
That doesn’t mean that Hollande has given up hope of extracting more flexibility from Merkel on the pace of deficit reduction. The great debate on austerity versus growth is closing in on the chancellor, as Nobel Prize laureates, newspaper editorials and now, more importantly, Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, advocate demand-side policies to complement structural reforms in order to fight unemployment.
Those who wonder why France doesn’t just do what Germany did under Schröder over a decade ago forget one crucial factor: Back then, the economy was growing; cutting the budget deficit in a zero-growth environment is a different challenge. Even the German economy is slowing down. The French president is betting that, having provided Merkel with all the evidence that this time he finally means business, Berlin and therefore Brussels will give him some breathing space. Halfway into his term, Hollande has come to acknowledge the power of Germany. Today the real economic leader of the eurozone is Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, who has held the job for five years. It is Schäuble who opposed the candidacy of Pierre Moscovici for the top economic job at the European Commission because of Paris’s record on deficit reduction. (After much wrangling, Merkel finally compromised: Moscovici should get the post, but a more fiscally orthodox Finn, Jyrki Katainen, will be placed above him as vice president of the commission.) It is Schäuble with whom Michel Sapin, the French finance minister, confers at every important political juncture, as he did again last week after the government reshuffle.
Yet it would be too simplistic to see this process, as the French left tends to do, as merely humiliating subservience. Political intertwining between France and Germany cuts both ways: Germany needs France as much as France needs Germany. When German diplomats, businessmen, politicians or even journalists express their deep concern to French colleagues about the Gallic crisis, they are actually sincere. A weak France is not in Germany’s interest, not only because France is its first customer, but also because the last thing Germany wants is to be leading alone. The way Merkel carefully includes Hollande in her dealings with President Vladimir Putin of Russia is revealing: Even though she is in the driver’s seat on the issue of Ukraine, generally on foreign and security policy she wants to be seen as working with France.
The Germans would love to freely enjoy their successes, unhindered by the burden of history. The eurozone would be much better off powered once again by a dual engine. For France and Germany, recoupling is the only option – if only their leaders could help.(source NYT)

Monday, September 22, 2014

A European Central Bank measure designed to stimulate the flagging eurozone economy has seen a low initial take-up by banks.
The cheap loans for European banks have been designed to encourage lending to business. But out of total loans of 400bn euros (£315bn) available on Thursday, only 82.6bn was taken up by 255 banks.
However, banks may be waiting for separate ECB measures due in October, analysts said. Cheap loans to banks were part of a package announced in June designed to support lending and the economy.
The loans - called "targeted longer-term refinancing operations" (TLTROs) - see the banks pay 0.15% annual interest for up to four years. Money market traders had been expecting banks to take up between 100bn and 200bn euros of TLTROs this week, with further interest in December, when banks get a second chance to apply for the cash.  Banks may be wary of taking up the loans before imminent ECB-led health-checks of the banking sector, said Karel Lannoo, chief executive of Brussels think tank the Centre for European Policy Studies.
"The European financial sector continues to be weak," said Mr Lannoo. "There may be a stigma because the markets are waiting for the AQR (asset quality review) in a few weeks."
However, banks may be waiting for details of a separate ECB programme to buy asset-backed securities, which are due out in October. "We would warn about drawing too strong conclusions from the September round," said ABN Amro analyst Nick Kounis.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The “troika” of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Commission and European Central that bailed out the Greek economy are waiting for further austerity measures before the IMF disburses a further tranche of €3.5bn in loans. Athens is currently awaiting the final tranche of €1.8 billion euros from the European Financial Stability Facility. 
Greece must also put forward proposals to the troika on how it will meet a projected €2 billion budget gap in 2015. The index reshuffle was made to the S&P Dow Jones emerging markets BMI index and at the same time Qatar and the United Arab Emirates stock indices were promoted from frontier to emerging markets status with a weighting of 0.9pc and 1.0pc in the index respectively.  The reclassification by S&P Dow Jones Indices follows the move by the more widely followed MSCI and Russell Indexes last year who also downgraded Greece to emerging market status. The FTSE index has Greece on its developed market watchlist. 
The changes to the S&P Dow Jones emerging BMI index will become effective on September 22 ... The Greek government have done nothing to restructure their public sector and are now talking about tax cuts! The EU is terrified because Syriza are leading in the opinion polls and are saying that the will refuse to pay back any of their loans (until economic prosperity returns LOL) and will restore all wage and pension cuts to the public sector. They are also talking about a campaign to cause the break up of NATO should they gain power. Greece has been downgraded to an emerging market by S&P Dow Jones Indices, in a blow for the country which was badly hit during the financial crisis.  The Greek market was assigned a weighting of 0.8pc by S&P Dow Jones Indices making it a relative minnow in the emerging market index compared to China which constitutes about a quarter (24pc) of the measure and Brazil and India which make up 11.3pc and 10pc respectively 
The shift could mean that pension funds and more cautious investors will have to move out of the Athens stock index. Greek stocks opened yesterday down 0.4pc to 1,156 on the Athens stock exchange and the bond yield on Greek debt increased, meaning that investors view it as a riskier prospect.
The downgrade comes as Greek government officials held talks in Paris at the start of the month to demonstrate that its austerity measures are on track. The talks were organised ahead of a full sixth review of Greece’s austerity programme to be held by troika officials in Athens at the end of this month.
The Greek economy has to fix its finances under the terms of two bailouts worth a combined €240bn

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Hollande, whose approval ratings stand at just 17%, needs results, and fast. But the chances of him achieving them look slim. It is not just that the latest business surveys make grim reading – though the economy does appears to be going backwards in the third quarter. It is not just that the amount of slack Merkel will cut him is likely to be limited. And it is not just that the European Central Bank has been painfully slow in waking up to the threat of deflation.
Rather it is that for all its many problems, France remains a prosperous and – for those in work – comfortable country. There is just no appetite for any of the more radical proposals, be they structural reforms, abandoning austerity or leaving the euro.
David Marsh of monetary thinktank Omfif says: "The political and economic position in France is parlous. Hollande will now be under attack from two sides: from the right wing, both his traditional conservative rivals and the revitalised Front National, and from his own socialist party, where Montebourg and his allies, unencumbered by government office, will be quick to regroup."
The risk for Hollande is clear. He is neither Margaret Thatcher in 1979 nor Blair in 1994. He has levers but seems unwilling to pull them. Clause IV moment? No chance. Lame duck moment? Much more likely.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Scotland votes no

It truly has been a dramatic and historic night. The eyes of the world have been firmly on the Scottish people, who in the course of the past 24 hours rejected independence in a referendum choosing to stay part of its 307-year-old union with England and Wales.
An estimated 55% of voters rejected Scottish first minister Alex Salmond’s plans for his country to become a separate nation – although there were big majorities for independence in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, and in Dundee.
Edinburgh, the country’s capital, voted no, along with Aberdeen, and a host of other areas that might have been expected to have voted yes.
But in the end the vote was not as close as the last few polls - and the incredible energy and enthusiasm of the yes campaign on polling day - had suggested. Turnout was approximately 85% - unknown since the 1950s.
In an early-morning concession speech, Salmond said he accepted the verdict of the people but noted that Scotland had not chosen independence “at this stage”, suggesting he may return to the idea of independence.
“We have touched sections of the community who have never before been touched by politics,” he said.
The Scottish first minister also warned the three main parties in the UK that they must make good on their promises of further devolution for Scotland by 22 January 2015. The last-ditch promise made by the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat party leaders is proving controversial, particularly among prime minister David Cameron’s Tories.
“The people of Scotland have spoken” declared Alistair Darling, the former chancellor of Great Britain who led the campaign to keep the union.
Cameron spoke this morning, saying he was delighted Scots had voted to keep the union and suggesting the issue of Scottish independence had been settled for a generation - even for “a lifetime”.
Further devolution would now be taken forward by Lord Smith of Kelvin, the prime minister said - not just for Scotland, but for Wales, Northern Ireland and England too. The controversial question of Scottish MPs voting on English matters needed an answer, he said.
The Queen is expected to speak this afternoon, focusing on the reconciliation of the nation.
The Pentagon wants a plane that can attain incredibly fast speeds while also possessing the ability to hover. The experimental Phantom Swift X-Plane will fulfill that role, and now Boeing has secured a $9 million to continue work it started roughly one year ago.
The idea for the aircraft, which resulted from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) VTOL X-Plane competition in 2013, will eventually be powered by an all-electric drive and measure 13 meters nose to tail and 15 meters from wingtip to wingtip, the military blog Defense Tech reported Aug. 28. The finished product is also expected to weight between 10,000 to 12,000 pounds.
“Boeing will continue to refine their design of the [VTOL] experimental aircraft, bringing it to a preliminary design review level,” the Department of Defense said in a statement, global security website IHS Janes reported Aug. 27. “Specifically, Boeing will complete the following milestones: system definition review; interim progress review; and preliminary design review.”
DARPA awarded the funds for a 16-month option on an existing 7-month base contract, IHS Janes reported. Of the four companies vying for a shot at making the Phantom Swift X-Plane, Boeing was the sole company capable of building and flying a scale model of the aircraft, the website reported.