Eurozone crisis live: Bankers face cap on bonuses after EU deal

EU officials agree bonus cap against UK opposition. Mixed data from Spain reflects uncertainty. Berlusconi investigated for corruption. US jobs data points to recovery, GDP revised higher to show 0.1% growth in the final quarter of last year…



Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Eurozone crisis live: Bankers face cap on bonuses after EU deal” was written by Josephine Moulds and Nick Fletcher, for guardian.co.uk on Thursday 28th February 2013 14.38 UTC

2.29pm GMT

Italy uncertainty should not hit Ireland’s bond issue plans

Speaking of the Italian election, Ireland does not believe the uncertainty over the outcome should derail its plans to issue bonds this year.

The country aims to sell a new benchmark 10-year bond in the first half of the year, the chief executive of its National Asset Management Agency John Corrigan told Dow Jones. He said:

Italy is obviously going through a difficult time following the election and that has some impact on European capital markets, but our judgement is it won’t knock us off course in relation to our return to the market.

Updated at 2.38pm GMT

2.24pm GMT

Here’s the Economist’s view of this week’s Italian election result (no comment needed):

2.14pm GMT

Rehn says UK should not sit on European sidelines

Olli Rehn has now turned his attention to the UK, saying it should remain involved in the EU.

He says if he were a British citizen, he would not want his country sitting on the European sidelines. It is firmly in Britain’s interest to use its energy to reform Europe rather than undo it.

Not a fan of a referendum then, it would seem.

As one of our former colleagues notes:

Rehn has added that there is a need to urgently complete the repair of the banking system.

Updated at 2.19pm GMT

2.04pm GMT

And with that I’ll pass you over to my colleague Nick Fletcher.

2.02pm GMT

EU’s Rehn confident Italy will find its way

Back to London, where Olli Rehn, the European Commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, is expressing his confidence that Italy will swiftly find its way forward.

Speaking at a Policy Network conference, he says it is important that Italy pursues reform for sustainable growth.

More generally, he says high debt countries have only one option, to restore sustainability to finances. Surplus countries, meanwhile, should use reforms to boost domestic demand.

He says fiscal consolidation needs to proceed at a careful but steady pace.

1.50pm GMT

Mixed data out of Spain reflects uncertainty

The mixture of good and bad news from Madrid today reflects the uncertainty hanging over Spain’s economy as the government boasts about almost meeting EU-set deficit targets while austerity deepens recession. My colleague Giles Tremlett reports:

The 6.74% budget deficit – just 0.4% off target – will be welcomed in Brussels, though the figure surprises some observers. It is still possible that, as with the 2011 deficit, it will increase as more reliable figures appear over coming weeks. Most impressively, assuming the figures are accurate, is the way regional governments – once the rogue elephants in Spain’s public finances – have slashed deficits close to government-set targets.

But a final quarter drop in GDP of 0.8% – more than double the previous quarter’s shrinkage – bodes badly for a country where unemployment is already officially at 26%, as consumer spending falls even while Spaniards save less.

Early (and incomplete) figures for this quarter point to “continued contraction of activity, in a context of marked apathy in internal consumption,” according to the Bank of Spain.

Mariano Rajoy’s government hopes it will be rewarded for good behaviour – and for not being Italy – with a relaxation of this year’s Brussels-set deficit target, which is currently at 4.5%. It is also predicting a return to growth at the end of the year.

But the biggest fear in Madrid today is that a predicted fragile recovery that is still more than six months away will be thrown off track if Italy provokes a return to euro jitters – with Spain first in line to suffer contagion.

1.34pm GMT

US jobless claims point to recovery

Sticking with the US, jobless claims dropped 22,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 344,000. That was better than expected and suggests the jobs market in the US is picking up.

1.32pm GMT

US GDP revised up but misses expectataions

US GDP has been revised up to +0.1% for the fourth quarter of 2012 from an original estimate that GDP actually fell by 0.1%.

Still this was not as big a revision as some had forecast, with analysts betting that the economy had in fact grown by 0.5%.

(Just to clarify, the US GDP figures are annualised, so they show the value that would be registered if the quarterly rate of change were maintained for a full year.)

Updated at 1.41pm GMT

1.24pm GMT

Nerves about Italy should not be overdone – ECB’s Nowotny

There has been a clear improvement over the past year in Europe’s economic situation but there is more work to be done to lift the southern economies out of trouble, ECB policymaker Ewald Nowotny said today.

With masterful understatement, he noted the nervousness about Italy’s inconclusive election results but said it should not be overdone.

Of course everyone’s a bit nervous. One should keep things in perspective. I do not think there will be fundamental change in the politics in Italy because there are just economic necessities that you have to follow.

There was a bond auction yesterday that went quite well. One shouldn’t overdo it.

1.13pm GMT

EU bonus cap ‘deluded’ says Boris Johnson

London mayor Boris Johnson expresses his opposition to the EU bonus cap, in his inimitable style.

This is possibly the most deluded measure to come from Europe since Diocletian tried to fix the price of groceries across the Roman empire.

It would be interesting to know what people abroad think of Boris. Clown or comedy genius?

12.32pm GMT

Cyprus election result boosts chances of deal with lenders – Moody’s

Meanwhile the election of pro-bailout candidate Nicos Anastasiades in Cyprus has boosted the chances of a deal with international lenders, says Moody’s

But the ratings agency said the results of the weekend’s other eurozone election did not alter its assessment the island could eventually default. It said:

Domestic banks’ recapitalisation needs remain uncertain and we anticipate Cyprus’ debt burden will rise dramatically, reaching an unsustainable level. There is a 50% chance that the sheer size of Cyprus’ anticipated debt load will eventually compel authorities to pursue every avenue for debt reduction, including private sector losses on Cypriot debt.

12.08pm GMT

Van Rompuy confident Italy will stick with euro

More assurances that Italy will stick with the euro project. The faster they come the weaker they sound.

Here’s European council president Herman Van Rompuy, who this morning expressed his full confidence that Italy will continue to remain a stable and strong member of the European Union and of the eurozone.

Van Rompuy met outgoing Italian prime minister Mario Monti today to discuss the upcoming council, which will discuss growth and job creation.

12.02pm GMT

Despite the UK government’s opposition to the EU bonus cap, MEPs from both Labour and the Tories broadly welcomed the deal.

Labour MEP, Arlene McCarthy, said:

These rules are designed to make banks safer, more accountable and ensure they focus on lending to the real economy.

It’s a shame that the UK government has sought to defend this broken bonus culture by acting as the trade union for a minority of highly paid traders. The coalition government says they want reform of the banking sector yet they are the only member state to defend the status quo by maintaining the current flawed bonus culture.

Conservative MEP, Vicky Ford, said:

I do fear that a cap on bankers bonuses is a blunt instrument but I was pleased to sharpen it by including elements that encourage bankers to take long-term decisions, otherwise they risk their bonuses being clawed back.

Of course some top bankers will be affected by the bonus cap but I feel that we have managed to produce a deal that will strike the right balance for the majority of bankers who take responsible decisions. If the bonus cap is shown to cause bankers to begin relocating outside the EU then we will have the ability to swiftly look again at the provisions in place through an early review.

11.52am GMT

Bonus cap could make banking more attractive

The EU cap on bonuses (see 7.32am and following) could alter the way the City works and for the better, says another commentator from the Cass business school.

Andre Spicer, professor of organisational behaviour, said:

The new EU curbs on bankers’ bonuses will force banks to rethink how they motivate their star performers. For some time banks have relied on super-sized bonuses to attract and retain star performers.

Some of the alternatives to large bonuses will include longer-term incentives which are linked to performance of the institution over five or 10 years. It might include soft incentives such as better working hours, more supportive work environments, more opportunities for self-actualisation and more interesting design of jobs. This could lead to workplaces where bankers are no longer willing to put up with 364 days of stressful work and one good day when bonuses are paid. This will mean banking is likely to be a more attractive job for a wider range of people.

The cap on bonuses will also mean that banks need to rethink their business models. Until now banks have relied on a few stars in small units of investment banking to make significant chunks of the bank’s profit. Now banks will need to think about ways of harnessing the talent of the vast majority of their employees who don’t receive giant bonuses. This could see the large banks returning to older style banking.

But, he writes, the cap could drive bankers into more lucrative posts at hedge funds or private equity firms.

Updated at 12.33pm GMT

11.45am GMT

Spain’s deficit comes down to 6.7%

Spain will miss its target for deficit reduction this year, but not by too much.

The public deficit has come down to 6.74% in 2012, from 8.9% in 2011. That misses the target of 6.3% agreed with Europe, but should be enough to appease the markets.

The European Commission is said to be happy with Spain’s performance and is expected to give the country another extension on shrinking the deficit to below 3%. At present, that target is set (somewhat ambitiously) for next year.

Spain’s treasury minister Cristobal Montoro said there was no need for new budget cutting measures, and that strict rules on autonomous regions’ spending are working.

11.34am GMT

Just to confirm the EU bonus cap has been written specifically for the financial industry, so it will apply to bankers’ and their ilk, not other industries. Thanks to laasan for the question in the comments below.

11.24am GMT

Osborne on the ropes

Why do they do it? Surely by now politicians are so afraid of the damaging headlines, they should know not to be photographed in bizarre poses.

But apparently not. The Evening Standard is running a picture of embattled chancellor George Osborne skipping… even as he grapples with the loss of the UK’s triple-A rating, a rising deficit, and an economy struggling to show any kind of growth. Post your captions in the comments below.

Updated at 11.26am GMT

11.10am GMT

EU bonus cap ‘ludicrous’ – London-based commentator

Here’s Pete Hahn of Cass Business School, on the bonus cap.

Much of banking and economics are cyclical and the basis of bonuses was to address cyclicality. Certainly, bonus payments lost that purpose and need to be reoriented. Yet, the current proposal appears aimed at ludicrously legislating the economic cycle and creating ever higher fixed salaries and perks for those leading the largest banks. Those worried about Europe’s growth might think about how high fixed pay packages with limited upside might influence senior bankers to increase risk taking or not.

11.06am GMT

City of London lashes out at ‘counterintuitive’ bonus cap

There’s more reaction coming through on the EU cap on bonuses agreed overnight (see 7.23am). Unsurprisingly, there are dissenting voices in the City. Mark Boleat, policy chairman at the City of London Corporation, said:

This bonus cap risks placing the EU at a competitive disadvantage to other international financial centres in Asia and the US. The devil will be in the detail but removing flexibility from pay arrangements in this highly cyclical industry would seem counterintuitive – especially if it leads to higher fixed salaries.
In recent years, much work has been undertaken to tie remuneration and incentives more closely to sustainable, long-term performance. This has included introducing a right of claw-back, payment in shares with only a limited cash element and deferred payment, and greater transparency over the packages paid to the highest earners in a business. This is already changing the culture across the industry to ensure pay reflects performance.

The MEP who negotiated the deal for the European Parliament, Othmar Karas, this morning tried to downplay the impact of the cap in Germany. But, as AP’s Brussels correspondent notes, any effect felt there will be multiplied in London.

11.00am GMT

No risk of contagion from inconclusive elections – Italian president

Back to Italy, where the president Giorgio Napolitano said he sees no risk of wider European contagion from the Italian political situation.

Reuters reports him saying there is a difficult path ahead but that he is convinced Italy’s future is in Europe. He says he is confident that Italy will continue to take its responsibilities and accept sacrifices needed to continue the European project.

The Italian people have made a democratic choice that must be respected, he says. The constitution does not allow the process of forming a new government to be accelerated.

10.22am GMT

Eurozone inflation drops to 2%

Eurozone inflation eased in January to 2%, paving the way for a possible rate cut from the European Central Bank.

Eurostat said the annual inflation rate came down from 2.2% in December. That brings the 12-month average to 1.9%, just below the ECB’s inflation target, which could let the central bank cut rates in a bid to boost activity.

Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight said:

The ECB currently seems reluctant to take interest rates lower than the current record low level of 0.75%, but the bank could be forced into reconsidering its position if the eurozone fails to show clear signs of economic improvement over the coming weeks or if the euro strengthens anew to reach new highs. Downside risks to the eurozone outlook could mount if protracted political uncertainty in Italy leads to a renewed intensification of sovereign debt tensions.

Updated at 10.45am GMT

10.12am GMT

Berlusconi investigated for corruption

Reports are emerging that Silvio Berlusconi – who won a sizable portion of the vote at the Italian elections – is being probed in Naples for suspected corruption and illegal party funding.

Italian news agency ANSA said the case regards money allegedly paid to Senator Sergio De Gregorio – who defected from the centre left to join Berlusconi’s party some years ago – citing judicial sources.

The news prompted little surprise on Twitter at least.

Updated at 10.16am GMT

9.56am GMT

EC president says confidence returning to Europe

Over in Ireland, EC president Jose Manuel Barroso is sounding upbeat. Speaking to a business conference, he said there are signs that confidence is returning to Europe, but the situation is still “fragile”.

The banking debt crisis exposed the uneven performance of competitiveness across Europe and the region must now implement reforms for businesses to get the most out of the single market, he said.

And, for his Irish audience, he praised the country’s progress under the bailout programme.

He was appearing alongside Irish prime minister Enda Kenny, who said the country has to deal with the ‘issue of high unemployment’.

Figures out yesterday showed Irish unemployment falling, but still high at 14.2% in the fourth quarter of last year.

Kenny also had warm words about European politics.

9.43am GMT

It’s no wonder Monti agreed to keep his commitment at the European Commissions Competition forum. He clearly wanted a bit of love after Sunday’s humiliating defeat.

9.25am GMT

Mario Monti, outgoing PM, concludes with the following…

The message I would like to leave with you, in 2013 Italy will have a close to zero structural deficit. There is an accompanying strategy at the EU level that needs to be pursued, unless we passively allow that simplistic, some would say populistic (I do not pass judgment on the Italian elections) tendency to have the EU policies derailed.

He gets rapturous applause and a standing ovation. But it’s got to be said it was a very dry speech. Against the likes of Beppe Grillo, it’s no great surprise he didn’t get the votes at home.

9.17am GMT

If you do the right policies and don’t get the recognition (ie rates don’t come down), there is a political backlash, says Monti.

9.15am GMT

9.13am GMT

Monti says there are delays between when a good reform is brought in and when the benefits are felt.

The benefits in terms of growth tend to take more time than the benefits to the financial markets.

9.12am GMT

Back to outgoing Italian prime minister Mario Monti, who is speaking in Brussels.

He is defending his record, saying the market situation in 2011 left no choice but to cut the budget and push through reforms, despite low growth.

9.04am GMT

German unemployment down in February

We’ll keep one eye on that. Meanwhile, German unemployment fell in February, although slightly less than forecast (in seasonally adjusted terms).

The number of people out of a job dropped by 3,000 to 2.9m in February, while economists were expecting it to fall by 5,000.

The unemployment rate held steady at 6.9% (after January’s rate was revised up to 6.9%).

The closely watched jobless total (which is not adjusted) remained above the 3m mark.

8.56am GMT

So far, the focus is very much on competition and it does not look like he will be taking questions.

Italy has felt the benefits of competition with new high-speed rail links, says Mario Monti (who is still being billed as Italy’s prime minister, despite being the clear loser in Sunday’s elections).

Updated at 8.57am GMT

8.54am GMT

Monti speaks in Brussels

Over to Brussels, where Mario Monti is giving the keynote speech at a Competition Conference. You can watch it live here, he’s speaking in English.

8.36am GMT

Markets rise on hope of central bank support

Over to the stock markets, which are looking up on the hope that central banks will step in again to support the economy, although Italy is lagging behind amid the political uncertainty.

UK FTSE 100: up 0.4%, or 27 points, at 6353

Germany Dax: up 0.8%

France CAC 40: up 0.6%

Spain IBEX: up 0.8%

Italy FTSE MIB: up 0.1%

8.29am GMT

Bankia posts biggest loss in Spanish corporate history

Sticking with Spain, one of the country’s nationalised banks today posted a loss of €19bn, by far the largest loss ever reported in Spanish corporate history.

The bank has undertaken a major operation cleaning its balance sheet of soured property loans and other loss-making activities over the past year.

Investors were expecting a big number after Bankia warned of huge losses when it was bailed out late last year.

The Bankia chairman Jose Ignacio Goirigolzarri said in a statement that the bank’s priority is…

To make Bankia a profitable institution in order to return to the community the support it has given us.

8.21am GMT

Spanish fourth quarter GDP drops 0.8%

There is some miserable data out of Spain this morning, which saw its GDP figures revised down to -0.8% for the final quarter of last year, from an initial estimate of -0.7% That means the Spanish economy shrank by 1.9% over the year.

That is the sixth straight quarter that Spain’s economy contracted and the downturn appears to be speeding up, with GDP dropping at its fastest quarterly pace since mid-2009.

Updated at 8.29am GMT

8.10am GMT

German finance minister ‘never said the crisis was over’

Still nothing has been settled in Italy after Beppe Grillo – the ex-comedian whose Five Star Movement broke through in spectacular style at the elections – ruled out backing a government led by the centre left.

Though European markets are settling down after the inconclusive election results, there is still plenty of nervousness out there. And eurozone policymakers are falling over themselves to point out they never said the crisis was over.

German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble said that Italy’s inconclusive weekend election had raised the risk of market turmoil spreading to other euro countries and urged Italian politicians to form a stable government quickly. He told Reuters:

The election result in Italy has sparked doubts in the market that a stable government can be formed. When such doubts arise there is a danger of contagion. We saw this last year when elections in Greece led to political uncertainty. Other countries are then infected.

I never said the euro crisis was over. I only said that we have made significant progress. We need to continue on this path, but we will have setbacks.

7.51am GMT

Bonus cap morally right – think tank

Sony Kapoor, managing director of the Re-Define think tank, meanwhile says it is economically sound and morally right. He writes:

This will help tackle the culture of excessive risk-taking and the bending of rules that has now become endemic to banking. Undertaking this at an EU-wide level will also limit any large-scale migration of the so-called ‘talent’. It will reduce the risks borne by tax-payers and go a long way to rehabilitate the industry, making it focus on serving the real economy again.

7.47am GMT

Fears that bonus cap will push up salaries

But there are concerns the move will be counterproductive. This from the chief economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit…

Updated at 7.52am GMT

7.32am GMT

Good morning and welcome back to our rolling coverage of the eurozone crisis and other global economic events.

Overnight, EU leaders agreed to introduce what will amount to the world’s strictest curbs on bankers’ bonuses, railroading opposition from the UK Treasury.

The basic agreement will cap bankers’ bonuses at a year’s salary. While it still needs approval from EU governments, the main points could become law as early as next year.

And the UK cannot veto it. This will rock the City of London, where bonuses can sometimes be as much as 12 times a bankers’ salary.

My colleague Ian Traynor reports from Brussels:

The UK financial sector was dealt a withering blow on Wednesday night when the European Union agreed on moves to slash the bonuses that may be paid to bankers, defeating strong Treasury opposition to the new rules.

A meeting of officials from the 27 countries of the EU with MEPs and the European commission agreed to cap bankers’ bonuses broadly at a year’s salary, with the proviso that the bonus could be doubled subject to majority shareholder approval.

The agreement has still to be approved by EU governments before coming into force next year. While details may still be tweaked, it is expected that the main points will become EU law.

Britain, strongly opposed to the new legislation, will not be able to veto it as it will be carried by a qualified majority vote of the EU member states.

The deal will be another blow for Chancellor George Osborne who strongly opposed the deal. The FT reports:

Tensions were so high that George Osborne, at one point snapped and said defending the package would make him “look like an idiot”.

Updated at 7.34am GMT

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