Article

If the British people take a democratic decision to do something – in this case change the benefit system – they should be able to do so without having the prime minister scuttering around Europe asking permission…

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Democratic decisions on benefits of the EU” was written by Letters, for The Guardian on Tuesday 15th December 2015 19.32 UTC

Zoe Williams misses the point about Cameron’s negotiations with EU member states (There is no master plan. On the EU, Cameron is flailing, 14 December). Restricting benefits to EU migrants may or may not be a sensible, legal or logical way to meet the concerns of people, be they “Ukip-minded” or not. But once our PM had to ask permission to do so, the issue was completely transformed. It is no longer one of EU migrants’ access to benefits, but the far more fundamental question of who decides how British taxpayers’ money is spent. It became a question of national sovereignty. That’s why organisations such Trade Unionists Against the EU are not awaiting the outcome of “negotiations” and are campaigning to get the UK out. The issue is as simple as it is clear: if the British people take a democratic decision to do something – in this case change the benefit system – they should be able to do so without having the prime minister scuttering around Europe asking permission. This will continue to be the case while the UK remains a member of the EU.
Fawzi Ibrahim
Trade Unionists Against the EU

• David Cameron’s negotiations on limiting in-work benefits for EU immigrants appear to have won little support. One simple approach might be to limit levels of benefit to those payable in the country of origin of the European migrant. That would deter those seeking to exploit the system and could disarm politicians in other member states, who would no longer be able to claim that their emigrants were being monetarily disadvantaged. It would leave the fundamental right of freedom of movement untouched.
Ken Daly
Aisholt, Somerset

• Hans Dieter Potsch, the chairman of Volkswagen, glosses over the truth of what his company did to cheat emission tests: it wasn’t a “chain of errors”, it was a chain of liars prepared to sanction a management mindset (VW admits to ‘chain of errors’ at company, 11 December). Or is he not admitting responsibility, even though he is no doubt paid a monstrous salary on the basis of being in charge? This incident just confirms that all companies need active oversight from outside to try and stop such appalling actions. They cannot be trusted any more than managers of banks and other financial groups. This is why we need the EU and strong legislation trying to stop such abuses in companies that think they can do what they like.
David Reed
London

• Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

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USA 

Financial markets focused on the more downbeat indicators of construction and industrial production that some say might be a sign that the UK economy may be losing steam along with its largest trading partner the eurozone…

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Official data points to loss of momentum in UK economy” was written by Katie Allen, for The Guardian on Friday 9th January 2015 16.30 UTC

Further evidence of a slowing British economy came on Friday as official figures showed a surprise drop in construction in November and falling industrial output as oil and gas output declined sharply.

But the data showed a bounceback in factory output that buoyed hopes for the manufacturing sector and good news on exports suggested UK companies could weather troubles in their biggest trading partner, the eurozone.

Financial markets focused on the more downbeat indicators, taking them as the latest evidence the economy lost steam in the final months of 2014. The pound lost ground against the dollar as traders bet the Bank of England would be in no hurry to raise interest rates from their record low, given the mixed signals on the economy.

“Disappointing official data are adding to survey evidence which indicate that the rate of UK economic growth slowed towards the end of last year,” said Chris Williamson, chief economist at data analysts Markit.

“Looking at all of the official statistics and survey evidence currently available, the data collectively point to the economy growing 0.5% in the fourth quarter, down from 0.7% in the third quarter,” he added.

While economists said it was too soon to say whether the slowdown at the end of the year continued into 2015, the latest figures will be unwelcome to the Conservatives as they seek to convince voters that the recovery remains on track.

“On balance, there is further evidence that UK growth is slowing as we head towards the general election,” said Simon Wells, chief UK economist at HSBC.

Among the bright spots for the economy in a clutch of reports from the Office for National Statistics was the news that manufacturing output rose by 0.7% in November, reversing October’s fall and beating economists’ expectations for growth of just 0.3%. On the year, output was up 2.7%.

But the wider industrial sector which also includes utilities, mining and oil and gas production, fell 0.1%. That drop was driven largely by a 5.5% fall in oil and gas output. The ONS said the weakness was partly down to maintenance work at two North Sea oil fields.

Respected thinktank the National Institute of Economic and Social Research said following the latest industrial production numbers it estimated growth slowed to 0.6% in the final three months of last year, after 0.7% in the three months to November 2014.

Separate official figures from the construction sector showed output fell by 2.0% on the month in November, defying economists’ forecasts for growth and contrasting with surveys of the sector.

The news on trade was more encouraging, however, as the ONS reported the narrowest trade deficit since June 2013.

The manufacturing sector is still not back to its pre-crisis strength and exports have not grown as fast as the government would have hoped. Progress has been slow in the government’s push to rebalance the economy away from overdependence on domestic demand, but some economists are predicting a strong 2015 for manufacturing.

A drop in oil prices to their lowest level in more than five years has buoyed hopes for the sector. Maeve Johnston at the thinktank Capital Economics cautioned it was far from certain oil prices will remain so low, but the fall should help “reinvigorate the recovery”.

“Indeed, if low oil prices are sustained, it should greatly reduce costs for the manufacturing sector, providing some welcome support over 2015. And sustained low oil prices would also ensure that the improvement in the trade deficit proves to be more than a flash in the pan,” she said.

The trade numbers beat expectations as the ONS reported the goods trade gap narrowed by £1bn to £8.8bn in November, as exports edged down but imports fell faster. Economists had forecast a £9.4bn gap. The less erratic figures for the three months to November showed exports grew by £2bn and imports shrank by £0.5bn.

The details showed exporters continued to benefit from targeting markets beyond the deflation-hit eurozone. Exports to countries outside the European Union increased by £2.1bn, or 6.0%, in the three months to November from the previous three months. Exports to the EU decreased by £0.1bn, or 0.3%. At the same time, the UK recorded its largest ever deficit with Germany, reflecting a decrease in exports and a slight increase in imports.

The trade gap for goods and services taken together fell to its lowest since June 2013, at £1.4bn in November.

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BoE has slashed its forecast for wage growth this year, warned that geopolitical risks are rising, and said contingency plans for financial upheaval over Scottish independence are ready. Here are key points from the Bank’s Quarterly Inflation Report…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Business Liveblog: Bank of England cuts wage growth forecast, and reveals Scottish contingency plans” was written by Graeme Wearden, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 13th August 2014 12.51 UTC

US retail sales miss forecasts, with no growth in July

Over in America, a disappointing set of retail sales figures have just raises concerns over the strength of its recovery.

Retail sales were flat in July, the worst performance in six months, having only risen by 0.2% in June.

Car sales fell, and demand for electronics and home appliances was weak — not a great sign of consumer confidence.

Core retail sales, which strips out cars, gasoline, food services and building materials, rose by just 0.1% in July, and June’s figure was revised down from 0.6% to 0.5%.

Ahha! On page 29 of the BoE’s Inflation report is a bar chart, showing how most new jobs created in the last six months have been in ‘low skill’ professions.

This may help explain the low growth in average earnings in recent months, if more new hirers are taking lower paid positions.

Hat-tip to Jeremy Warner of the Telegraph for flagging it up:

Labour: Weak wage growth shows economy isn’t fixed

Chris Leslie MP, Labour’s Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has seized on the news that the Bank of England has slashed its forecast for wage growth this year, to just 1.25%.

He says:

“The inflation report shows why this is no time for complacent and out-of-touch claims from Ministers that the economy is fixed and people are better off.

“While the economy is finally growing again and unemployment is falling, working people are still seeing their living standards squeezed. Pay growth is at a record low and lagging behind inflation and the Bank of England has halved its forecasts for wage growth this year.”

As covered earlier this morning, the latest unemployment data showed earnings growth faltering,

Total wages (including bonuses) have shrunk for the first time since 2009. And stripping out bonuses, average earnings rose by the lowest since records began in 2001, up just 0.6%.

Michael Izza, chief executive of ICAEW (which represents accountants) says the Bank of England’s new, lower wage growth forecasts are a concern:

The numbers of self-employed and part-time workers, together with those on zero-hours contracts are contributing to a flexible labour market that is keeping wages down. In addition, auto-enrolment means that employers are having to fund pensions from somewhere, and wages are suffering as a result.

David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, says the Bank of England is giving out “mixed messages” on the outlook for interest rates.

The higher growth forecast for 2014 and the lower estimate for the amount of slack in the economy may be seen as a signal to bring forward interest rate rises.

However, Governor Carney’s comments will reassure businesses that the MPC will not rush any increases in rates. He also acknowledged that the rising supply of labour in the economy may provide new sources of economic capacity.

An early UK interest rate rise looks a little less likely, reckons Neil Lovatt, director of financial products at Scottish Friendly.

He says:

“To read between the lines, the message today is that rates are still destined to rise, but when that will be is still up for debate. The fickle nature of the UK economy seems to keep everyone guessing.”

“Any rate rises will be small, but even very small rises in interest rates will have a significant effect on what is still a fragile economy. That said, savers thinking that the ‘good old days’ of high interest rates will return are going to be sorely disappointed and the sooner we adapt to this environment the better.”

Those new BoE forecasts

Berenberg Bank have kindly wrapped up the changes to the Bank of England’s forecasts:

  • Growth up. The BoE raised its growth forecasts to 3.5% in 2014 and 3.0% in 2015, both up by 0.1ppts from their previous forecast. Although they cut their 2016 forecast to 2.6% from 2.8%
  • Inflation up in 2014 but down in 2015 and 2016. The BoE now forecasts 1.9%, 1.7% and 1.8% inflation for 2014, 2015 and 2016, compared to 1.8%, 1.8% and 1.9% in their previous forecast.
  • Unemployment down. To 5.9%, 5.6% and 5.4% in 2014, 2015 and 2016, from 6.3%, 6.0% and 5.9% in the previous forecasts.
  • Pay growth cut in the near term but raised later in the forecast. Specifically, the BoE now forecasts wage growth of 1.25%, 3.25% and 4% in 2014, 2015 and 2016 from 2.5%, 3.5% and 3.75%.
  • Slack now estimated at 1% of GDP, compared to 1-1.5% in the second quarter.

So, good news on growth and unemployment, but bad news on pay.

As Berenberg’s UK economist, Rob Wood, puts it, there’s “something for everyone”.

This fan chart shows the new growth forecasts:

One more key point — the Bank of England flagged up that geopolitical dangers (think Ukraine or the Middle East) are a growing threat to Britain’s recovery.

Carney said:

“Markets have been remarkably resilient to some of these geopolitical events and we’re only beginning to see the first advance signs of the middle through some of our major export markets such as Germany and the movements of some of the confidence indicators.”

(thanks to Reuters for the quote)

Bank of England’s quarterly inflation report – the key points

Quick recap.

1) The Bank of England has slashed its forecasts for wage growth, conceding that the recovery has still not fed through to people’s pockets.

The BoE now expects earnings to rise by just 1.25% this year, down from 2.5% previously. It admitted that there appears to be more slack in the economy than it realised, although it is also being eaten up at a faster rate.

Governor Mark Carney said the UK was experiencing “strong output growth”, but this has not been matched by a material pickup in productivity, or wages.

2) The prospects of an early rise in UK interest rates appear to have faded.

The pound tumbled on the news, shedding one cent against the US dollar to $1.6714 as investors calculated that an early rate rise is less likely than before.

The Bank also hammered home that interest rate rises will be gradual and limited, when the time comes to end Britain’s long period of record-low borrowing costs.

3) “Contingency plans” have been drawn up in case Scotland votes for independence.

Carney said:

”Uncertainty about the currency arrangements could raise financial stability issues….We have contingency plans.”

4) During an occasionally barbed press conference, Carney denied that the Bank was increasingly clueless about the UK economy.

He argued that rising geopolitical risks mean there is naturally more uncertainty about the situation, and denied that his precious forward guidance policy has been a muddle.

5) Europe remains a big worry. The BoE says that:

Eurozone growth continued to disappoint, net lending has been falling and inflation has stayed low.

And deputy governor Minouche Shafik warned that the UK can’t rely on the eurozone to drive its recovery.

Eurozone industrial production hits recovery hopes

Incidentally, we had further confirmation this morning that the eurozone is struggling — a poor set of industrial production numbers.

My colleague Jo Moulds reports:

Factory output in the eurozone contracted unexpectedly in June, further damaging hopes of a strong recovery.

Industrial production dropped 0.3% on the month following a 1.1% drop in May, hit by the ongoing conflicts in the Ukraine, Iraq and Gaza.

Production was flat compared to the same time last year. Economists had been targetting a 0.1% rise on the year. The annual reading was the lowest since August 2013.

Bank of England: we can’t rely on the Eurozone for our recovery

Britain can’t rely on the eurozone economy to drive our recovery, warns the Bank of England’s new deputy governor, Minouche Shafik.

Asked about the impact of the European Central Bank’s new stimulus measures (including hundreds of billions of cheap loans for banks), Shafik urged caution, saying the new impact of this LTRO programme will become clear over time.

The eurozone still faces low growth and low inflation, Shafik says, and we need to see whether the ECB’s measures lead to stronger credit growth and a stronger recovery.

The UK can’t rely on a eurozone recovery to lift our recovery. It would be good if the eurozone could drive us forwards, as it’s such an important export market, that’s not very likely, she concludes.

And that was the end of the press conference. Summary and reaction to follow…

Updated

Asked about the rise in self-employed workers (as covered earlier in the blog) deputy governor Ben Broadbent plays down the suggestion that it’s a risk. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for productivity, he claims.

The Bank of England is tweeting some of the key points from today’s briefing, including a rather dashing (and slightly menacing?) photo of the governor:

Carney treats a question about his ‘muddled’ forward guidance policy with some distain.

Asa Bennett of the Huffington Post points out that the initial pledge (no rate rise until unemployment has fallen below 7%), has evolved into a broader measure based on slack, wage growth, and the like. Was it a muddle, or a learning process?

Not an unfair question, frankly, if a little mischievous.

But Carney doesn’t look pleased, claiming that Bennett is the muddled one, and that his guidance has been entirely consistent across many inflation reports and MPC minutes.

It’s consistent, it’s boring, but what’s what you get, he smiles.

The audience aren’t smiling, though:

Mark Carney: Bank of England has contingency plans for Scottish independence

Mark Carney has revealed that the Bank of England has drawn up contingency plans in case Scotland votes for independence next month.

Asked for his views on the prospect of ‘sterlingisation’ (that Scotland would use the pound without a formal currency union), Carney reveals that that BoE is preparing for all eventualities, as “uncertainty” over Scotland’s currency arrangements could hit financial stability.

He concedes that

He says:

We have contingency plans…. but it’s never a good idea to talk about them in public apart from to say that you have them.

Carney says that in terms of the Bank’s responsibilities for financial stability, we have “a wide range of tools and plans”. And the BoE isn’t the only body with responsibilities here — some are shared with the Treasury.

Updated

Back on the markets…. Carney says he is “encouraged” that the financial markets are more responsive to the latest data.

James Macintosh of the Financial Times takes up Larry’s point, that the Bank is looking increasingly clueless (on a spectrum between certainty and cluelessness).

Mark Carney replies; if we can agree that the range is between perfect certainty and perfect uncertainty, it’s fair that there is more uncertainty, mainly around the issue of productivity.

Here’s a link to the inflation report (sorry for the delay #hectic)

Ah, the Scotland question — is it time for Alex Salmond to produce a Plan B on an independent Scotland’s currency?

Mark Carney takes a cautious line; the Bank will implement whatever policymakers decide, but it has “noted” the statements from the three main UK political parties that they would not enter a formal currency union with iScotland.

He also points out that the Bank has a responsibility for financial stability across the UK, and will keep discharging those duties until circumstances change.

Updated

Could the Bank of England raise interest rates by as little as 0.125%, or would that be the equivalent of ‘boiling the frog’, asks Szu Ping Chan of the Telegraph.

Carney chuckles at the analogy, but doesn’t suggest such a small rise is on the agenda.

Ed Conway of Sky invites Mark Carney to comment on the financial markets’ expectations for UK interest rate rises (harking back to his Mansion House speech in June, when he suggested they were too dovish).

Carney plays the ball deftly, saying that the overall shape of market expectations are consistent with an adjustment that is both gradual and limited.

Deputy governor Ben Broadbent chips in, saying that it’s a “false dichotomy” to suggest the Bank should either be completely certain about everything, or completely clueless.

Larry Elliott, the Guardian’s economics editor, isn’t impressed by today’s report:

Doesn’t today report show that the Bank “really hasn’t got a clue, the MPC is divided, and that anyone taking out a mortgage or an overdraft would be ill-advised, as anything you say must be taken with a very large pinch of salt?”, Larry politely suggests.

Governor Carney defends his record, suggesting rather archly that Larry should try speaking to a lot of firms around the country*. The firms I speak to insist that business have understood the Bank’s ‘forward guidance’, he adds.

Interest rates will go up as the economy improves, they will go up to a limited extent, ands gradually, Carney says. But there are geopolitical dangers, and we may need to react to them.

* – Like in Rochdale, perhaps, Governor?

How much spare capacity is left to be absorbed in the UK economy?

Carney says there is “tremendous uncertainty” about the degree of slack, among policymakers on the Bank’s monetary policy committee (the overall view is that there’s 1% of capacity to mop up).

That’s not hugely reassuring, given the importance that the Bank now puts on the issue when setting monetary policy.

Updated

Alex Brummer of the Daily Mail wants more details about the Bank’s worries about geopolitics.

Carney replies that there is a “slight downturn skew” to today’s growth forecasts.

Bank of England press conference – Q&A session begins

Onto questions — Ben Chu of the Independent asks why the Bank has lowered its forecasts for productivity growth.

Mark Carney explains that firms have been taking on workers rather than investing in new equipment, as labour is cheaper than capital.

That process should end once cheap labour has been mopped up, meaning workers demand higher wages, and encouraging firms to invest in new equipment that will boost productivity. That process is taking longer than thought.

Pound hits 10-week low against the US dollar

The pound has hit its lowest level against the US dollar since last May, as the markets digest the inflation report (and the jobless data).

Sterling is down by 0.45% today, at $1.6732.

Updated

On interest rates, Mark Carney again reiterated that borrowing costs will rise in a “small, slow” manner, when the appropriate moment comes.

The economy is returning to a semblance of normality, Carney concludes.

Carney says that the amount of spare capacity in the economy has fallen somewhat in the last quarter, but the Bank also reckons there was more slack in the UK than before.

Updated

Bank of England slashes forecast for wage growth.

Over at the Bank of England, governor Mark Carney is unveiling the Quarterly Inflation Report.

He is declaring that the Uk recovery is “on track”…. “Robust growth” has taken output above the pre-crisis peak, and the Bank has revised its near-term forecast for growth up.

But the Bank has also slashed its forecast for wage growth in the UK.

  • It now expects wages to rise by just 1.25% in 2014, down from 2.5% previously.
  • It sees growth picking up to 3.25% in 2015, down from 3.5% before.
  • And in 2016, it reckons wages will rise by 4%, up from 3.75% previously.

Carney is also warning that Britain faces rising geopolitical risks, while the eurozone economy remains weak.

And the persistent strength of sterling is also a worry.

You can watch the press conference live here (right-click to open in a new tab).

Updated

So much for the year of the pay rise

Today’s report have cast a shadow over hopes that 2014 will be “the year of the pay rise.”, says the Resolution Foundation.

Adam Corlett, their economic analyst, comments:

“Once again a strong employment performance is to be welcomed but concerns remain over wages. There is still good reason to expect that real pay will start increasing during 2014 but today’s disappointing performance pushes the wages recovery further down the road.

It’s now almost impossible for average real pay in 2014 as a whole to exceed last year’s unless we see an unprecedented surge in wages during the rest of the year.

The number of people receiving the Jobseekers Allowance could soon fall below the one million mark:

The Press Assocation reports:

The claimant count fell for the 21st month in a row in June, by 33,600 to 1.01 million, according to today’s data from the Office for National Statistics.

If the trend continues, the number of Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants will fall below a million next month for the first time since September 2008.

See the report yourself

Nearly forgot… you can see the full labour market report here (as a pdf).

Iain Duncan Smith: Long-term plan is working

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has claimed that his changes to the welfare system have helped heal the labour market.

Here’s his official response to the jobless figures:

“In the past, many people in our society were written off and trapped in unemployment and welfare dependency. But through our welfare reforms, we are helping people to break that cycle and get back into work.

“The Government’s long-term economic plan to build a stronger economy and a fairer society is working – with employment going up, record drops in youth unemployment and hundreds of thousands of people replacing their signing-on book with a wage packet.

“This is transformative, not only for these individuals and their families, but for society as a whole. That is why we have set full employment as one of our key targets – bringing security and hope to families who have lost their jobs and others who never had jobs, we put people at the heart of the plan.

“The best way to help even more people into work is to go on delivering a plan that’s creating growth and jobs.”

However….critics, such as our own Polly Toynbee, are less impressed with Duncan Smith’s performance, given the stuttering start to his universal credit project:

Iain Duncan Smith’s delusional world of welfare reform

Today’s slump in real wages are a blow to hopes that the cost of living squeeze was easing — readers may remember that four months ago there was chatter that the squeeze was over, after pay rises (briefly) burst above inflation.

Could Britain’s falling real wages be partly due to changes in the composition of the labour market, with more people taking lower-paid jobs?

Newsnight’s economics correspondent, Duncan Weldon, reckons so:

Britain’s youth unemployment total has fallen:

The ONS reports that there were 767,000 unemployed people aged from 16 to 24 in April-June 2014; 102,000 fewer than for January to March 2014 and 206,000 fewer than for a year earlier.

These were the largest quarterly and annual falls in youth unemployment since comparable records began in 1992.

Updated

The recovery in the labour market has partly been driven by Britain’s army of self-employed people, which swelled by almost 10% over the last year.

The ONS reports that, since April-June 2013,

  • The number of employees increased by 447,000 to reach 25.77 million.
  • The number of self-employed people increased by 408,000 to reach 4.59 million.

UK unemployment, the key charts:

These two charts show what a bizarre jobs recovery the UK is experencing.

On the one hand, the employment rate is close to its highest level on record, as jobless falls and more people find work (820,000 in the last year).

But yet, real wages are shrinking – with the gap between earnings and inflation widening alarmingly (whether you include volatile bonuses or not)

One reason for caution — pay packets were boosted a year ago, because many bonuses were held back until after the UK top tax rate fell to 45%, in April 2013.

The ONS points out that “some employers who usually paid bonuses in March paid them in April last year.”

But if you strip out bonuses, pay is still up a measly 0.6% year-on-year, the lowest on record.

Updated

This chart from Bloomberg confirms that UK wages have suffered their first fall since the depths of the financial crisis:

Here are the key points on today’s unemployment data, from the ONS:

  • For April to June 2014, there were 30.60 million people in work, 167,000 more than for January to March 2014 and 820,000 more than a year earlier.
  • For April to June 2014, there were 2.08 million unemployed people, 132,000 fewer than for January to March 2014 and 437,000 fewer than a year earlier.
  • For April to June 2014, there were 8.86 million economically inactive people (those out of work but not seeking or available to work) aged from 16 to 64. This was 15,000 more than for January to March 2014 but 130,000 fewer than a year earlier.
  • For April to June 2014, pay including bonuses for employees in Great Britain was 0.2% lower than a year earlier, but pay excluding bonuses was 0.6% higher.

UK unemployment rate drops to 6.4%, but wages fall

Breaking News: Wage growth in the UK has hit its lowest level on record, and actually contracted if bonuses are included.

The Office for National Statistics reports that average earnings, excluding bonuses, rose by a mere 0.6% in the three months to June.

That means pay packets lagged well behind inflation — which hit 1.9% in June.

Including bonuses, total pay packets actually contracted by 0.2% during the quarter, the first fall since 2009.

In brighter news, the overall unemployment rate fell to 6.4% in April-June, which is the lowest since the end of 2008. And the claimant count fell by 33,000, showing that the labour market continues to recover.

But that recovery still isn’t reaching people’s pockets.

More details and reaction to follow

Updated

Nearly time for the UK unemployment data to hit the wires….

Reminder — economists expect another rise in employment, and a drop in the number of people claiming benefits.

But a crucial issue is whether earnings are picking up, after years of low pay rises.

As my colleague Katie Allen reports, many employees have been hit hard:

Angela Chicken was still in hospital with her newborn son when she was made redundant. She had been earning £11 an hour as a graphic designer. Ten years on, the 52-year-old single mother makes around £8 an hour working part-time at her local Sure Start children’s centre in Southampton.

With the cost of living rising faster than her pay, Chicken’s wages have fallen even further in real terms, a pattern likely to be reflected across the country in the latest official labour market figures today. After bills and housing costs, Chicken is left with £108 a week to feed herself and her son, buy clothes and anything else they need. They eat well, she said, but there is little left for treats or outings.

“We don’t really have enough money to go on holiday … I don’t get haircuts, I very rarely buy any clothes,” she said. “What I have had to do is pull myself back over the last 10 years to a position that isn’t as good as it was because I got knocked off my perch.”

More here:

In low-wage economy employers paying well make sound investment

Updated

Most of Europe’s stock markets have risen this morning, despite the worrying economic news from Asia overnight (details).

Germany’s DAX is leading the way, up 77 points or 0.86% at 9147.

Insurance group Swiss Re has cheered investors by posting a 3.5% jump in profits.

In London the FTSE 100 is flat (dragged back by a few companies going ‘ex-dividend’).

The Bank of England may admit this morning that it was too optimistic about wage growth, reckons Bloomberg’s Emma Charlton:

We also have confirmation that the eurozone has slipped worryingly close to deflation last month.

Fresh data this morning showed that Spain’s consumer prices index fell by 0.3% year-on-year in July, the biggest drop in almost five years. Month-on-month they slipped by 0.9%.

In France, prices were up by a meagre 0.5% last month compared with July 2013, and also fell on a monthly basis, down 0.3%.

Japan’s GDP shrinks by 6.8%; Chinese new lending slumps

Global economy watchers have two big pieces of economic data from Asia to digest today.

1) Japan has suffered its biggest contraction since the 2011 tsunami, in a blow to efforts to revitalise its economy.

Japanese GDP fell at an annualised rate of 6.8% between April and June (meaning it shrank by 1.7% during the quarter). The slump is being blamed on the recent hike in Japan’s sales tax, from 5% to 8%, which encouraged firms and households to bring forward their spending to January-March.

The government remains relaxed, saying the economy is recovering. But critics of prime minister Abe’s stimulus plan suggest he may have to postpone plans to raise the sales tax again in December.

2) The news from China isn’t too rosy either. The broadest measure of new credit has dropped to the lowest since the global financial crisis, suggesting many banks are cutting back on new lending.

Economists are concerned, as Chinese banks also face the impact of the property market downturn. Beijing may need to unleash further stimulus measures to avoid growth weakening. fastFT has a round-up of analyst comments.

Updated

Analysts at ING will be combing the inflation report for signs that the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee was divided last week, when it voted to leave interest rates unchanged.

They say:

The Bank will release new forecasts and update its forward guidance which will leave the door open for a rates rise this year. Any hints of dissent at the August meeting will boost the case for a November hike.

Inflation report: what to watch for

The Bank of England inflation report will be scrutinised for hints over interest rate rises, the latest assessment of ‘slack’ in the economy, wage growth (or lack thereof), and the outlook for growth (could possibly be revised up) and inflation (might be revised down).

Mark Carney can also expect a few questions about the UK housing market.

Here’s Angela Monaghan’s preview:

Bank of England inflation report – what to watch for

City analyst Michael Hewson of CMC Markets predicts that today’s data will show another welcome drop in the jobless rate, but an unwelcome drop in wage growth.

He writes:

The latest ILO unemployment numbers for June are expected to see a drop from 6.5% to 6.4%, while jobless claims in July are expected to show another drop of 30k, slightly lower than the 36.3k drop seen in June.

Wages growth continues to be the economic head scratcher and is the Bank of England’s biggest problem when it comes to deciding when to raise rates. If we continue to see the gap with inflation widen out then it becomes increasingly difficult to see how the Bank could even contemplate a rate rise this year.

Expectations are for flat wage growth for the 3 months to June, down from the 0.3% rise in May.

* – The wages figures are skewed by the cut in Britain’s top rate of income tax back in April 2013. That prompted some firms to hold back bonus payments until then, making comparisons trickier.

UK unemployment and Bank of England inflation report in focus

Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of the economy, the financial markets, the eurozone and business.

We’re tracking two big events in the UK this morning. First, the latest unemployment figures, due at 9.30am BST. They are expected to show another drop in the number of people out of work.

But that labour market recovery has come at a price — low wage growth, and today’s figures are likely to show pay rises lagging behind inflation again.

That would mean real wages are still falling; taking the shine off Britain’s economy recovery.

That data will set the scene for the Bank of England’s latest quarterly Inflation Report, released at 10.30am.

This is the Bank’s latest health-check on the UK economy, including forecasts for growth and inflation.

But the big issue is whether the BoE has moved closer to hiking interest rates — Governor Mark Carney will probably be quizzed on this during the press conference.

The key issue is whether the Bank thinks most of the spare capacity, or ‘slack’, in the economy has now been mopped up. Carney will probably reiterate that the Bank is watching wage growth closely – showing whether employers are having to pay more for talent, and whether households could cope with higher borrowing costs.

As Ian Williams of Peel Hunt explains:

Formal changes to the forecasts are likely to be minimal; the overall assessment of the degree of slack, especially regarding the labour market, will be the focus of investor interest.

Elsewhere, European stock markets are expected to rise modestly, despite ongoing geopolitical tensions [the Russian aid convoy chugging towards the Ukraine border could be the next flashpoint].

And in the euro area, investors are digesting yesterday’s slump in German investor confidence, and fretting about how bad tomorrow’s growth figures for the April-June quarter could be.

I’ll be tracking the key events though the day….

Updated

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The pound rallies against the U.S. dollar and the euro after U.K. Retail sales rise by 2.6% m/m in December, smashing the forecasts of 0.5% increase and much stronger that the 0.1% reading in November. U.S. consumer confidence drops…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Retail sales grow at fastest rate for nine years – business live” was written by Jennifer Rankin and Nick Fletcher, for theguardian.com on Friday 17th January 2014 15.14 UTC

More US data has just come out, with an unexpected drop in consumer confidence.

Worries about employment and income growth sent the Thomson Reuter/University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index down from 82.5 in December to 80.4 so far this month. This compares to forecasts of an increase to 83.5. Rob Carnell at ING said:

There is no compelling explanation for this, unless perhaps respondents have been influenced by weakness in some other surveys – payrolls for example – though most observers believe that these are anomalous and weather affected.

With the labour market probably in far better shape than the latest labour report suggested, the stock market remaining robust, house prices rising strongly and gasoline prices relatively low, there is no good reason for the dip, which may turn out to be nothing more than noise. At any rate, 80.4 is not a bad level, and consistent with spending growth remaining at the sort of levels seen in recent quarters.

Updated

A lacklustre opening for US markets this morning, following industrial data and housing starts broadly in line with expectations.

There is plenty else for investors to chew on. Morgan Stanley reported a 72% decline in income for Q4, partly related to legal costs related to the credit crunch. General Electric, another corporate bellwether, posted a 4.8% rise in revenue.

  • The Dow Jones Industrial average dipped slightly, falling 0.1% to 16,397.16 points.
  • The S&P500 lost a similar amount leaving it at 1843.50 points.
  • The Nasdaq composite fell 0.34% to 4203.428.

On that note I am handing over to Nick Fletcher. Thanks for following and all the comments so far. JR

From the US production lines, to an underwear factory in Manchester. Kinky Knickers, the label championed by retail guru Mary Portas, has seen parent firm Headen and Quarmby fall into administration, threatening 33 jobs.

It is another blow to the self-styled Queen of Shops, who is battling to rescue the British high street. Read the full story from the Guardian’s retail correspondent Sarah Butler here.

Joseph Brusuelas, an economist at Bloomberg, has some interesting first-takes on those US numbers.

Here are more details on the US industrial production data from the US Federal Reserve Board.

  • Manufacturing output rose 0.4% in December, compared to 0.6% in November
  • Mining output was up 0.8% compared to 1.9% in Nov.
  • Utilities output was down 1.4% compared to a 3% rise in Nov.
  • Industrial output excluding cars and parts was up 0.2% compared to 0.9% in Nov.

Via Reuters

Breaking news: US industrial production rose 0.3% in December, in line with economists’ forecasts.

Should the Bank of England beware of the “nasty scissor movement?” Not a an outlandish stationery cult, but what happens when growth is caught between a decline in real wages and stagnant business investment.

Ben Broadbent, external member of the Monetary Policy Committee, has been looking at whether this view holds water, in a speech at the London School of Economics today.

The full text is on the Bank of England website, but here is a flavour of his argument:

….concerns about the absence of growth have been replaced with worries about its composition: too much consumer-led spending, too little investment and trade. In particular, it is argued, the recovery will run out of steam without a rise in investment because of an ongoing contraction in real wages. The suggestion is that proceeds of growth are being diverted to unspent corporate profits. Growth is therefore caught in a nasty scissor movement between a decline in real wages, which limits the room for further growth in household spending, and perpetually stagnant business investment. As a result it is destined to subside. My aim today is to ask whether this view holds up to scrutiny.

I will make three points. The first is that real pay is weak not because firms are taking (and hoarding) the lion’s share of the proceeds of growth – in fact, the opposite is true: wages have grown faster than profits during this recovery – but because the prices we pay for consumption have risen much faster than those firms receive for their output.

The second point is about the typical sequencing of economic expansions. Business investment tends to lag, not lead, the cycle in output (the opposite is true for housing investment). One of the reasons firms’ capital spending has stagnated is that the recovery has so far been too weak to allow their profits to recover. But history, and a variety of indicators, suggests it is likely to accelerate through this year. Indeed, allowing for measurement error, it may already have started to do so.

The final and more general point is to caution against inferring too much about future growth from its current composition. Of course there’s a risk the recovery could falter. But, if it does, it will probably be because of more fundamental problems – a failure of productivity to respond to stronger demand, for example, or continuing stagnation in the euro area – not any imbalance in expenditure or income per se. These are outcomes, not determinants, of the economic cycle. As we shall see, they are poor predictors of future growth.

Shell’s profit warning wiped £6.5bn from the FTSE100 index this morning. But this could be small change compared to the trillions of overvalued assets oil and gas companies are sitting on – the so-called “carbon bubble”. Several commentators, including readers of this blog, argue that the “carbon bubble” and risks to the environment of runaway climate change, put a different perspective on today’s statement from Shell.

It is worth revisiting a warning from Lord (Nicholas) Stern, the author of the landmark 2006 report on climate change. Last May, Stern said the world risks a major economic crisis, because oil and gas companies are sitting on huge fossil fuel reserves that will have to remain underground, if the world has any hope of avoiding the threshold for ‘dangerous’ climate change. Essentially, major energy companies are seriously overvalued…

Smart investors can already see that most fossil fuel reserves are essentially unburnable because of the need to reduce emissions in line with [a climate change] global agreement. They can see that investing in companies that rely solely or heavily on constantly replenishing reserves of fossil fuels is becoming a very risky decision.

… much of the embedded risk from these potentially toxic carbon assets is not openly recognised through current reporting requirements. The financial crisis has shown what happens when risks accumulate unnoticed. So it is important that companies and regulators work together to openly declare and quantify these valuation risks associated
with carbon, allowing investors and shareholders to consider how best to manage them.

Updated

Breaking: US housing starts fell by 9.8% in December, the US Commerce Department has said. The figure is the largest percentage drop since April, but not quite the steep drop economists had been predicting.

Groundbreaking for single-family homes, the largest segment of the market fell by 7%.

Just in… the owner of the New York stock exchange and Euronext is taking over the running of Libor, the interest rate benchmark at the centre of a rigging scandal involving many major banks.

Intercontinental Exchange will take over running Libor from 1 February, having received the formal ok from the Financial Conduct Authority.

In his 2012 review, Martin Wheatley, now chief executive of the FCA, had recommended handing Libor to an independent organisation chosen via competitive tender. The British Bankers’ Association was stripped of its responsibility for Libor in the wake of the scandal.

The London Stock Exchange has removed itself from the dwindling club of companies with all male boards.

The LSE announced this morning that it had appointed two women to its board - one day after it was exposed by BoardWatch as being one of three FTSE100 companies with all make boards.

Sherry Coutu, who serves on Cambridge University finance board, and Joanna Shields, chairman of Tech City UK, become non-executive directors with immediate effect, the LSE said this morning.

This means the only companies in the FTSE100 left with all-male boards are Chilean copper mining company Antofagasta and commodities trader Glencore Xstrata.

Capital Economics has issued a cautionary note on this morning’s bumper retail sales figures.

 December’s strength does not translate into a strong Q4. Because of weakness in previous months, over the fourth quarter as a whole, retail sales were a mere 0.3% higher than in Q3. So spending on the high street will provide only a modest boost to economic growth in the final three months of the year.

 Nonetheless, with non-retail spending strong, December’s sales data provided further hope that Q4 should sustain the strong rate of GDP growth seen in Q2 and Q3. But it also points to a recovery that continues to display a distinct lack of balance.

In other words, whatever happened to ‘the march of the makers’?

Tough times in Spain continue, with another sign that households and small companies are struggling to repay debts. Spanish banks’ bad loans as a percentage of total lending hit a record high of 13.08% in November, up from 12.99 % the previous month, according to Bank of Spain figures.

Here are the figures from the Bank of Spain:

And here is Reuters’ take on the data:

The [bad loans] ratio has been steadily climbing as households and small companies struggle with debts and as banks, fighting to improve their own capital quality ahead of Europe-wide stress tests, rein in lending. Bad debts rose month on month by €1.5 billion ($2.04 bn) to €192.5 bn euros in November. Total credit, meanwhile, rose slightly by €2.6 bn to €1.47 trillion euros, the data showed.

Updated

The Guardian’s politics live blog is covering Ed Miliband’s speech on breaking up the banks. Check out the sentiment tracker, where you can have your say on the speech minute by minute.

Back to Shell, which has seen its share price recover from this morning’s sell off. Shares are down 2.1%, an improvement on an earlier 4% fall.

Ishaq Siddiqi at ETX Capital, blames the management, but thinks that Shell is not alone in its problems

Worrying news from the oil major which is clearly suffering from management’s inability to get on top concerns regarding capital discipline. Shell warned of disappointing results from its upstream, downstream and corporate business divisions; higher exploration costs and softer oil prices are blamed for the poor numbers – this is unlikely to change this year leaving markets worried about the group’s outlook.

Shell is not an isolated case however, as weak industry conditions for downstream oil is likely to hit sector peers too. For Shell itself, management must now implement more aggressive targets for group strategy in order to turn a page and improve capital efficiency which would go some way in improving operational performance.

Louise Rouse at ShareAction wants Shell’s shareholders to challenge the company on its costly Arctic drilling plans.

A quick recap – last year Shell filed formal plans to drill in the Arctic above Alaska, raising environmental concerns about the potentially devastating impacts of a spill.

ShareAction is not convinced about the economics of the plans.

 There are huge question marks over the economic viability of Shell’s Arctic plans given the high costs involved. The fact that Shell’s profits are tumbling, in part because of high exploration costs, highlights further the need for investors to make sure that the sums add up in the case of the Arctic.

Oil companies’ approach to capital expenditure is almost Shakespearean – ‘there is money, spend it, spend it, spend more’. With flat share prices and falling profits shareholders should challenge this lack of capital discipline.

Updated

A snapshot of consumer behaviour in charts…

Consumers hit the shops in force in December, splashing out in the run-up to Christmas. Pundits are less convinced the spending splurge will continue in 2014. Here is a round-up of reaction on the UK’s retail sales data and what it means for the economy.

Alan Clarke, director of fixed income strategy, said the growth in sales was not the result of slashing prices.

Its a boom!! UK retail sales surged by 2.6% m/m in December – massively higher than expected. The breakdown showed strength in non-store, no surprise given we know the internet side of spending is booming. That saw a near 5% jump on the month. Meanwhile department stores flew. They had seen a 3.3% drop the prior month, so some payback was likely, but this was massive.

I would have expected to see a corresponding slashing in prices to have induced such strength but it didn’t show up – the deflator was fairly stable.

Jeremy Cook, chief economist at World First, thinks these figures could be “a last hurrah for retail” as consumers show more restraint in 2014.

Well, that was unexpected. Pre-Christmas discounting, combined with strong consumer confidence and a strengthening jobs market has driven sales through the tills at a rate that hasn’t been seen since May 2008.

This stands against the anecdotal evidence we’ve been getting from the high street, in what seemed to have been a very lacklustre Christmas trading period. Companies have issued profit warnings and retailers have been eager to warn shareholders that as long as wage growth remains subdued, in both nominal and real terms, that a positive outlook could be guaranteed. I’ll be eager to see just how much discounting is to blame for this number; revenue and profit are very different beasts.

Sterling has driven higher on the number with yields on UK debt moving upwards as well, as the market factors in further pressure on the Bank of England’s forward guidance plan. We still believe that the UK consumer will remain pressurised through 2014 and this number could easily be a ‘last hurrah’ for retail as move forward into 2014.

James Knightley at ING Bank thinks the chances for an interest-rate rise have gone up.

UK retail sales jumped a massive 2.6%MoM in December, way beyond any expectation in the market, leaving sales 5.3% higher than a year ago. Given that this figure is measured in volumes rather than values it adds weight to the view that GDP growth will be very strong in 4Q13 (close to 1%QoQ) with 1Q14 GDP likely to be robust too thanks to base effects….
Overall, a very strong set of numbers that suggest the UK economy is gaining speed with spare capacity really starting to be eaten into. As such, the chances of an interest rate hike this year are rising, but we suspect the [Bank of England] will start with macroprudential tools to cool certain hot spots first.

Howard Archer, chief UK and Europe economist at IHS, thinks consumers could “take a breather” after splashing out at Christmas.

December’s strong retail sales performance provides a major boost to hopes that GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2013 remained up around the 0.8% quarter-on-quarter rate achieved in both the third and second quarters.

Even so, it should be noted that because of lacklustre overall sales in November and October, retail sales volumes growth in the fourth quarter of 2013 was limited to 0.4%, which was down substantially from growth of 1.6% quarter-on-quarter in the third quarter.

Looking ahead, there is some uncertainty as to how robust consumer spending will be in the early months of 2014. It is very possible that consumers could take a breather after finally splashing out for Christmas and in the sales, given that inflation is currently still running at double the rate of earnings growth. It is also notable that consumer confidence edged back for a third month running in December, although these small dips were from a near six-year high in September.

The good news for growth prospects is that the squeeze on purchasing power now seems to be progressively if gradually easing with consumer price inflation falling to a four-year low of 2.0% in December. Average earnings growth is also showing signs of edging up although it was still only up by 1.1% year-on-year in October itself and by 0.9% year-on-year in the three months to October.

In addition, markedly rising employment is supportive to consumer spending, as is the improving housing market.

Here is a flavour of the insta-reaction on Twitter to those surprising retail sales figures.

Here are the highlights from the Office for National Statistics data on retail sales.

  • The UK retail industry grew by 5.3% in December 2013 compared with December 2012. Retail sales were up 2.6% in December, compared to the previous month, far outstripping economists’ calls for growth of just 0.3% or 0.4%.
  • Department stores – the likes of John Lewis and House of Fraser – did especially well in December, with a month-on-month increase of 8.7%.
  • Internet sales increased by 11.8% in December 2013 compared with December 2012 and by 1.8% compared with November 2013.
  •  But it wasn’t just big bricks and clicks. Small stores (<100 employees) saw the amount of spending go up by 8.1% compared with 2.6% in large stores.
  • Growth was in non-food stores, helping to offset declines in sales in food stores and petrol stations.

Just in…UK retail sales rose 2.6% in December compared to November, the fastest growth in 9 years and smashing expectations.

A smidgen of good news for Portugal, which is hoping to leave its €78bn euro bailout programme later this year. Ratings agency Standard & Poors has removed Portugal from its “Creditwatch” list. Being on Creditwatch is the precursor to an imminent downgrade, so this is a an improvement, albeit a very small one.

Portugal’s BB credit rating and negative outlook was reaffirmed, leaving it stuck just two notches above “junk” status.

S&P said the move reflects its expectation that Portugal will achieve its 5.5% of GDP budget deficit target in 2013 and approach its 4.0% target in 2014.

We base this expectation partly on indications that the economy has been showing signs of stabilisation since mid-2013.

Stronger-than-expected export performance, and an expected bottoming out of private consumption, amid a modest decline in unemployment should support Portugal’s fiscal performance in 2014.

S&P said a key risk was the possibility the Constitutional Court may reject more austerity measures, although the ratings agency expects the government to muddle through find alternatives, as it has in the past.

The negative outlook reflects our opinion that there is at least a one-in-three possibility that we could lower our ratings on Portugal during 2014.

Even Super Mario has his work cut out.

Nintendo has issued a profits warning, after its Wii U console failed to capture the public imagination. The Japanese games maker expects to sell just 2.8m consoles in the 12 months to the end of March, down from previous expectations of 9m. It also halved the number of games that it expects to sell for the Wii U, from 38m to 19m.

Nintendo blamed disappointing sales of its consoles over Christmas:

Software sales with a relatively high margins were significantly lower than our original forecasts, mainly due to the fact that hardware sales did not reach their expected level.

Charles Arthur, the Guardian’s technology editor, has the story here.

Updated

Labour’s shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna has been defending the party’s bank reform plans on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme.

He suggested that a short-term fall in the share price of Lloyds and RBS, both partly state-owned, was a price worth paying to create a more stable economy.

 I’m not denying in the short term that you may see a hit on the share price of these banks – it’s probably happening as we speak now. But the reason we are doing this is so that we can grow our small businesses, which not only create in and of themselves more middle-income jobs – so we actually get people earning more – but also are very important feeders in the supply chain for our larger businesses.
“If we solve that problem – because our economy is too low-wage and too low-skill – and we get more people earning more money, then we will see higher income tax receipts coming into the Exchequer, our businesses will do better because people will be spending more, so we will see higher corporation tax receipts, and therefore we will actually have a better economy.

Overall, the banking crisis caused by the banks cost our country about £1.2 to £1.3 trillion in the wake of 2008/09. In that context, actually, we believe that the costs involved of the reform that we are proposing will in the longer term be in the public interest.
“The reason we are doing this is essentially because we’ve got the biggest cost-of-living crisis in a generation.”

Mr Umunna declined to estimate the level of the cap which Labour would place on banks’ market share.

The quotes are from the Press Association.

Things could have been worse for Shell, suggests Bloomberg correspondent Jonathan Ferro.

Shell has seen 3.9% wiped off its share price since markets opened a few minutes ago.

This hasn’t done much for the FTSE 100, although it hasn’t harmed it either. The overall index is up 0.1%.

Shell is the largest company on the FTSE 100, worth around 7.5% – number courtesy of Mike van Dulken, head of research at Accendo Markets.

On European markets, it’s a pretty unexciting start to the day: Germany’s DAX is up 0.1%, France’s CAC 40 up 0.2% and Spain’s IBEX up 0.1%. Italy’s FTSE MIB is flat.

Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of the world economy, the financial markets, the eurozone and the business world.

To start the day, we have a surprise profits warning from the world’s second largest oil company, Royal Dutch Shell. The company has said that its fourth quarter 2013 results are likely to be “significantly lower” than recent levels of profitability.

Earnings for the fourth quarter of 2013 are expected to be $2.9 billion (£1.8bn), compared to analysts’ expectations of $4bn.

Shell is blaming “weak industry conditions in downstream oil products, higher exploration expenses and lower upstream volumes”.

‘Not good enough’ is the message from Ben van Beurden, Shell’s chief executive who took over two weeks ago.

Our 2013 performance was not what I expect from Shell. Our focus will be on improving Shell’s financial results, achieving better capital efficiency and on continuing to strengthen
our operational performance and project delivery.

Although analysts are expecting UK markets to open up, Shell is the largest company on the FTSE 100, so could weigh the rest down.

Elsewhere, we have Labour leader Ed Miliband’s speech calling for the UK’s five largest banks to sell off branches – covered in the Guardian here and here.

At 9.30 we are expecting UK retail sales figures. Although shoppers might have been spending big on tablet computers and Christmas jumpers, market watchers are braced for some disappointing numbers. The consensus is for a rise of 0.3% for Q4 2013, which would be a significant drop on the rest of the year.

From the US, we are also expecting industrial and manufacturing production data for December.

I’ll be tracking that and the rest of the economic and financial news throughout the day…

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Following Ireland’s exit from the bailout, ECB boss Mario Draghi seems to be trying to pour cold water on the optimism. Situation in the second-largest economy in the euro-area worsens with French firms suffering. France looks like the ‘sick man of Europe’…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Draghi warns EU on banking supervision — business live” was written by Graeme Weardenand Nick Fletcher, for theguardian.com on Monday 16th December 2013 16.24 UTC

Coming up in the UK tomorrow morning, the latest inflation data are expected to show price rises steadied last month but still outstripped wage growth. My colleague Katie Allen writes:

The consumer price index measure of inflation is expected to hold at 2.2% in November according to the consensus forecast in a Reuters poll. But some economists see the rate dropping to 2% while others have pencilled in a rise to 2.5%. Inflation has been above average annual earnings growth for several years now and the latest official figures put pay growth at 0.8%.

The RPI rate in tomorrow’s data from the Office for National Statistics – a measure often used for setting pay and pensions – is forecast to edge up to 2.7% from 2.6% in October.

Jonathan Loynes and Jack Allen at the thinktank Capital Economics say tomorrow’s data could show CPI at the Bank of England’s government-set target of 2% for the first time since November 2009. They comment: “Admittedly, petrol prices will probably make a larger contribution to inflation than in October. While they fell by about 1% m/m last month, they dropped by nearly 2% in November 2012.

“Nonetheless, food inflation should ease in November. Both global agricultural commodity prices and domestic food producer prices have been falling this year. And the British Retail Consortium’s timelier measure of food shop price inflation fell from 2.7% to 2.3% in November.

“In addition, although the two largest energy companies, British Gas and SSE, raised their prices on 15th and 23rd November respectively, these are unlikely to affect November’s CPI reading. Index Day – the day of the month on which the ONS chooses to collect prices – always falls on either the second or third Tuesday of the month. The ONS does not say which day until after the release, but given the pattern of previous Index Days, we reckon the ONS recorded prices on 12th November, before the energy companies raised their prices.

Meanwhile Portugal says it has passed the latest review by the troika of lenders:

Over in Greece, intense efforts are underway to wrap up negotiations with mission heads representing the country’s troika of creditors. Our correspondent in Athens Helena Smith reports.

With debt-stricken Greece’s next tranche of international aid resting on the talks, finance minister Yannis Stournaras said it was the government’s aim to conclude negotiations before tomorrow’s crucial euro group meeting. But the omens do not look good.

In unusually terse statements made before the onset of a fourth round of talks focusing on the thorny issue of bank repossession of homes, the development minister Kostis Hadzidakis insisted that Athens’ fragile coalition government would simply not adopt measures “at any price.”

“It is our intention to reach an agreement … but it is obvious that we are not going to agree at any price. The government cannot go back [on its promises] and accept whatever it is offered,” he said adding that under the terms offered by creditors at the EU, ECB and IMF, vulnerable Greeks would lose their homes. “It is easy to agree but afterwards you have to handle the social consequences,” he told Skai radio. The talks, which began at 4:30 PM local time, are being billed as “the very last” effort to find consensus on the potentially explosive issue.

After Ireland’s exit from the bailout this weekend, ECB boss Mario Draghi seems to be trying to pour cold water on the optimism. From his appearance at the European Parliament:

Back with Draghi:

Updated

Following the fifth and final review of Spain’s financial sector, the troika of the ECB, European Commission and IMF have welcomed signs of stabilisation at the country’s banks while warning more needs to be done:

Spain has pulled back from severe problems in some parts of its banking sector, thanks to its reform and policy actions, with the support of the euro area and broader European initiatives.

Spanish financial markets have further stabilised. Following the drop in sovereign bond yields, and the rise in share prices, financing conditions for large parts of the economy have improved, even if financing conditions for SMEs remain more challenging.

Nevertheless, the broader economic environment has continued to weigh on the banking sector, even if that impact has recently been receding. The private sector needs to reduce its debt stocks going forward, as heavy debt burdens continue to weigh on lending to the private economy.

Supervisors and policy makers have to continue to monitor closely the operation and stability of the banking sector. Continued in-depth diagnostics of the shock resilience and solvency of the Spanish banking sector remain vital. This is also important in order to ensure a proper preparation of the pending assessment of banks’ balance sheets by the ECB and EBA in the run up to the start of the Single Supervisory Mechanism.

The recent encouraging macroeconomic developments bear witness of advancement in the process of adjustment of the Spanish economy and corroborate the expectation of a gradual recovery in activity and of an approaching end to employment destruction.

The economic situation remains however subject to risks as imbalances continue to be worked out. Respecting fully the agreed fiscal consolidation targets – so as to reverse the rise in government debt – and completing the reform agenda remain imperative to return the economy on a sustainable growth path.

Following progress during 2013, the policy momentum needs to be maintained to finalise ongoing and planned reforms – amongst which are the delayed law on professional services and associations, reforms of public administration, further strengthening of labour market policies, eliminating the electricity tariff deficit and the forthcoming review of the tax system – and to ensure effective implementation of all reforms.

Full report here.

Updated

The protests in Ukraine have put pressure on the country’s credit rating, according to Fitch. The agency said:

The duration and scale of anti-government protests in Ukraine has put additional pressure on the country’s credit profile. The longer the standoff goes on, the greater the risk that political uncertainty will raise demand for foreign currency, cause inward investment to dry up, or trigger capital flight, causing additional reserve losses and increasing the risk of disorderly currency moves.
Developments over the weekend suggest the crisis is some way from resolution as the opposition hardens demands for a change of government. Between 150,000 and 200,000 protestors gathered in Kiev, according to press reports.
Even if the immediate crisis were defused and protests ended, political uncertainty would persist. The government would still be likely to find it hard to resolve the diplomatic challenge of building closer relations with the EU while placating Russia.

Full report here:

Ukraine Protests Increase Pressure on Credit Profile

And here’s ECB president Draghi on any trimming by the US Federal Reserve of its $85bn a month bond buying programme:

Markets jump as Fed fears ease and US deals enthuse investors

After days in the doldrums, markets are moving sharply higher. Investors have been selling shares in recent dayks amid concerns the US Federal Reserve could start turning off the money taps as early as this week’s meeting.

Strong US economic data – including industrial output today – has made that more likely, as has the signs of political agreement about the US budget. But on the whole, observers still think, in the main, the Fed will wait until next year.

So with a spate of acquisitions, including Avago Technologies paying $6.6bn for LSI Corporation, shares are back in favour for the moment. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is currently nearly 1% or 156 points higher, helping to pull the FTSE 100 to its highest levels of the day, up more than 1.3%.

Back to the news that Lloyds of London has appointed its first female boss, and my colleague Jill Treanor has the full story:

Forty years after the first woman entered the Lloyd’s of London dealing floor as a broker, the 325-year-old insurance market has named its first female boss.

The company is to be run by 30-year industry veteran Inga Beale from January. Currently the chief executive of Canopius, a Lloyd’s managing agent thought to be the subject of a takeover bid, Beale will replace Richard Ward who surprised the industry by resigning in the summer.

More here:

Lloyd’s of London appoints first female chief executive in 325-year history

Draghi is strking a dovish tone, according to Annalisa Piazza at Newedge Strategy:

The ECB’s Draghi comments in front of the EU Parliament strike a rather dovish tone on the current state of the EMU economy. Indicators signal that the EMYU recovery is set to grow at a modest pace in Q4 and the ECB is ready to act if needed. The effects of past policy easing will be clear only with a certain delay. In the meanwhile, the ECB is fully aware of downside risks on inflation.

And it seems more MEPs have now turned up to hear Draghi:

Draghi warned:

We should not create a Single Resolution Mechanism that is single in name only. In this respect, I am concerned that decision-making may become overly complex and financing arrangements may not be adequate. I trust that the European Parliament, together with the Council, will succeed in creating a true Banking Union.

Draghi also discussed the Single Supervisory Mechanism, and there would be stress tests for sovereign bonds as part of the process:

An important element of our preparations is the comprehensive assessment, which comprises a supervisory risk assessment, an asset quality review and a stress test performed in cooperation with the European Banking Authority (EBA).

…The process for the selection of asset portfolios to be reviewed for the asset quality review was initiated in November, based on specific data collections. Furthermore, we expect to announce the key parameters of the stress test exercise together with the EBA towards the beginning of next year.

In this context, let me explain again the treatment of sovereign bonds: The Asset Quality Review is a valuation exercise where we will apply the current regulatory framework. It is not for us to change this framework – this is a global discussion, and the Basel Committee is the right forum for it. That said, we will of course “stress” a wide range of assets as part of the stress tests: Sovereign bonds will be among them.

On interest rates and other measures, Draghi said:

Our forward guidance still remains in place: we continue to expect ECB key interest rates to remain at present or lower levels for an extended period of time. Thus, monetary policy will remain accommodative for as long as necessary.

Adjusting interest rates is not always sufficient to maintain price stability. In this crisis, interest rate cuts have been transmitted more slowly and unevenly across euro area countries due to the fragmentation of financial markets. To address this problem, we adopted in recent years a series of non-standard measures. The purpose of these was – and remains – a more effective transmission of the ECB’s interest rate cuts, so that our monetary policy can reach companies and households throughout the euro area.

This was also the purpose of our decision in November to continue conducting all our refinancing operations as fixed rate tender procedures with full allotment at least until July 2015. Thus, we have helped to alleviate funding concerns of banks, which are still hesitant to lend to households and firms.

Two years ago, we provided funding support to euro area banks through two Long Term Refinancing Operations with a maturity of three years each. As the funding situation of banks has improved significantly since then, banks have this year opted to repay about 40% of the initially outstanding amount. Accordingly, excess liquidity in overnight money markets has been gradually receding. We are monitoring the potential impact of these developments on our monetary policy stance. We are ready to consider all available instruments.

Over in Europe, ECB president Mario Draghi is speaking at the European parliament. here are the Reuters snaps:

16-Dec-2013 14:10 – DRAGHI – UNDERLYING PRICE PRESSURES ARE SUBDUED

16-Dec-2013 14:10 – DRAGHI – SEE MODEST GROWTH IN Q4

16-Dec-2013 14:11 – DRAGHI – ACCOMMODATIVE ECB MON POL STANCE WILL SUPPORT RECOVERY

16-Dec-2013 14:12 – DRAGHI – GROWTH RISKS ARE ON DOWNSIDE

16-Dec-2013 14:14 – DRAGHI – GOVERNING COUNCIL EXPECTS KEY ECB INTEREST RATES TO REMAIN AT PRESENT OR LOWER LEVELS FOR EXTENDED PERIOD

16-Dec-2013 14:17 – DRAGHI – MONITOR MONEY MARKET CONDITIONS CLOSELY, READY TO CONSIDER ALL AVAILABLE INSTRUMENTS

16-Dec-2013 14:18 – DRAGHI – WE ARE FULLY AWARE OF DOWNWARD RISK THAT PROTRACTED PERIOD OF LOW INFLATION ENTAILS

16-Dec-2013 14:19 – DRAGHI – SEE NO RISKS OF FINANCIAL IMBALANCES RELATED TO LOW INTEREST RATE ENVIRONMENT

16-Dec-2013 14:21 – DRAGHI – SOVEREIGN BONDS WILL BE TREATED RISK-FREE IN AQR, WILL BE STRESSED IN EBA STRESS TESTS

16-Dec-2013 14:22 – DRAGHI -CONCERNED THAT SRM DECISION MAKING MAY BECOME OVERLY COMPLEX, FINANCING ARRANGEMENTS MAY NOT BE ADEQUATE

Updated

Back in the world of economics, US factory output has slowed a little this month, mirroring the news from China overnight (see 8.02am post).

Markit’s monthly flash measure of American manufacturers came in at 54.4, down from 54.47 in November. That indicates that US firms (manufacturers and service firms) still grew, but at a slightly slower rate.

The employment measures showed that firms hired new staff at the fastest rate in nine months, and Markit reckons that this quarter is turning into the best three months for US factories this year.

And separate data from the Federal Reserve backs this point up — it just reported a 1.1% jump in industrial output in November.

On that note, I’m handing over to my colleague Nick Fletcher.

Updated

Inga Beale’s appointment as boss of Lloyd’s of London will go a small way to closing the gender gap at the top of the City. But there’s still some way to go.

Currently there are just three women running FTSE 100 companies — Angela Ahrendts at Burberry; Carolyn McCall at EasyJet, and Alison Cooper at Imperial Tobacco. Moya Greene will become the fourth when Royal Mail enters the index on Wednesday night.

Lloyd’s of London isn’t a listed company, so Beale won’t join the quartet.

The total will rise to five when BT executive Liv Garfield moves to run Severn Trent — but, with Ahrendts joining Apple next year, the total could soon drop back to four.

Concern has been growing recently that the City is still a tilted playing field. A survey last week found that a man who starts his career with a FTSE 100 company is four and a half times more likely to reach the executive committee than his female counterpart (the Financial Times has more details).

The UK has a target of 25% female representation across corporate boards by 2015 — currently the figure is 19%, up from 12.5% in 2010. So there appears to be progress…. except that women who do reach senior positions are in jobs that are traditionally lower paid.

Updated

How times change…. Inga Beale is appointed as Lloyd’s first woman CEO just 40 years after the London insurance market welcomed its first ever female broker into the ranks.

Liliana Archibald was a pioneer in 1973 when she became the first ever Lloyds broker, after Lloyd’s decided to move with the times. She now gets a space in the Historic Heroes section of Lloyd’s website, which explains:

At that time, Lloyd’s made a decision to accept women as Names. Archibald applied and in 1973 was accepted.

She told Lloyd’s List, ‘I did not break down the barriers; they were broken down for me by the members of Lloyd’s in a very charming way.’

Updated

Lloyd’s of London appoints first female CEO

Lloyd’s of London has appointed its first ever female chief executive.

Inga Beale will succeed Richard Ward in January. She currently runs Canopius Group, the Lloyd’s-based insurance and reinsurance group.

There had been many whispers in the City in recent days that Beale was in line for the top job at Lloyds, making her the first women to lead the insurance market in its 325-year history.

Beale has worked in insurance for three decades — beginning her career in insurance as an underwriter with Prudential. She’s also previously worked as Global Chief Underwriting Officer of Zurich Insurance, and as Group CEO of Converium Ltd.

John Nelson, Chairman of Lloyd’s, said:

I am absolutely delighted that we have appointed Inga as Chief Executive. She has 30 years’ experience in the insurance industry.

Her CEO experience, underwriting background, international experience and operational skills, together with her knowledge of the Lloyd’s market, make Inga the ideal Chief Executive for Lloyd’s. I very much look forward to working with her.

In the statement just published, Beale said Lloyd’s has “an extraordinary opportunity to increase its footprint and to cement its position as the global hub for specialist insurance and reinsurance”.

Back in June, she argued that more diverse boardrooms could deliver stronger results. Beale explained: 

I think the business is run differently if you have women around the decision making table and that’s why it’s good to have diversity, not just on the gender side.

Different people approach things differently and provide alternative views – diverse boards help companies make better decisions, which affect the bottom line.

It’s been a good few days for gender equality in the corporate world, with Mary Barra being appointed to lead General Motors last week.

Updated

The Eurozone’s trade surplus almost doubled year-on-year in October — but a fall in imports, rather than a surge of exports, is the main factor.

Eurostat reports that the eurozone’s posted a trade surplus of €17.2bn with the rest of the world in October, up from €9.6bn in October 2012..

The trade surplus was also much larger on a month-on-month basis, up from €10.9bn in September.

That sounds encouraging, but a peek at the data confirms that the flow of goods into the eurozone has stumbled since the eurozone crisis began.

Seasonally adjusted imports fell by 1.2% in October compared with September, while exports rose by 0.2%.

So far this year, exports are up 1% to €1.578trn, while imports are down 3% at €1.455trn. The resulting trade surplus, of almost €123bn, is double last year’s €57.4bn.

The data also underlined today’s theme — the divergence between Germany and France.

So far this year, the largest surplus has been recorded in Germany (+€148.3bn in January-September 2013), followed by the Netherlands (+€40.5bn), Ireland (+€28.5bn), Italy (+19.6bn), Belgium (€11.6bn) and the Czech Republic (+€10.6bn).

The biggest deficit was registered in France (-€57.5bn) , followed by the United Kingdom (-€55.1bn), Greece (-€14.5bn) and Spain (-€11.6bn).

Updated

Troubled insurance firm RSA is the biggest faller on the FTSE 100 this morning, shedding almost 3%.

Trader fear RSA’s recent problems — three profits warning, and the resignation of its CEO — could hit its credit rating.

RSA Insurance drops another 3% on credit rating fears

Updated

In the City, power firm Aggreko is leading the FTSE 100 risers after announcing decent results — and a deal to supply temporary power for the World Cup and Commonwealth Games in 2014.

That’s sent its shares up 6% (clawing back losses suffered last week).

Aggreko wins World Cup and Commonwealth Games power contracts

The euro has risen this morning, up 0.2% to $1.3765 against the US dollar. That reflects Markit’s view that today’s PMI data doesn’t make fresh stimulus from the European Central Bank more likely.

There’s also edginess ahead of the Federal Reserve’s meeting on Wednesday -when it might start to ease back on its $85bn/month bond-buying programme

Peter O’Flanagan of Clear Currency reckons the Fed won’t taper this week:

 Although there are continued signs of improvement in the US economy we feel the Fed may well look for one more month of strong data before they announce the scaling back of their QE program.

That being said we think this decision will be down to the wire.

European market: morning update

It’s a positive start to the week in Europe’s stock markets.

The Spanish and Italian markets are the best performers, following the news that private firms in the periphery are enjoying their best month since April 2011, according to Markit

  • FTSE 100: up 32 points at 6,472, + 0.5%
  • German DAX: up 45 points at 9,052, +0.5%
  • French CAC: up 16 points at 4,076, + 0.4%
  • Spanish IBEX: up 141 points at 9,414, + 1.5%
  • Italian FTSE MIB: up 253 points at 18,089, +1.4%

Howard Archer of IHS sums up the good news in today’s data…..

Some relatively decent news for Eurozone recovery prospects with the December purchasing managers surveys indicating that overall Eurozone manufacturing and services output expanded for a sixth month running and at the fastest rate since September.

Furthermore new orders picked up in December to the highest level since mid-2011, thereby lifting hopes that Eurozone activity can pick up at the start of 2014.

… and the bad:

However, there was pretty dire news on France where overall manufacturing and services activity contracted for a second month running in December and at the fastest rate for seven months following on from GDP contraction of 0.1% quarter-on-quarter in the third quarter.

This suggests that there is a very real danger that France is slipping back into shallow recession and reinforces concern about France’s underlying competitiveness.

France lags behind as eurozone recovery picks up

Activity across the Eurozone private sector has risen this month as the single currency area ends the year with ‘fragile’ growth, according to Markit’s new data published this morning.

It found that output in peripheral eurozone countries picked up in December.

With Germany already reporting solid growth this morning (see here), France looks increasingly like the ‘sick man of Europe’ as its firms struggle.

Markit’s Eurozone PMI Composite Output Index — which measures activity at thousands of firms across the eurozone — rose to 52.1 in December, up from 51.7 in November. That’s a ‘flash’ estimate, of course, but it suggests stronger growth in most parts of the euro area – not just Germany.

December is turning into a good month for eurozone manufacturers, with output rising for the sixth successive month. The rate of increase was the highest since April 2011 .

Service sector growth was more modest, though, with the rate of expansion hitting a four-month low (but there was still growth)

But as this graph shows, France was the laggard – with its service and manufacturing firms reporting a drop in activity (see 8.23am for details).

Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, said the data suggested the eurozone will grow modestly this quarter, by 0.2%. He fears that France could fall back into recession though, as the gap between the eurozone’s two biggest countries gets bigger .

Williamson explained:

The rise in the PMI after two successive monthly falls is a big relief and puts the recovery back on track. The upturn means that, over the final quarter, businesses saw the strongest growth since the first half of 2011, and have now enjoyed two consecutive quarters of growth.”

On the downside, the PMI is signalling a mere 0.2% expansion of GDP in the fourth quarter, suggesting the recovery remains both weak and fragile.

The upturn is also uneven. Growth is concentrated in manufacturing, where rising exports have helped push growth of the sector to the fastest for two-and- a-half years, while weak domestic demand led to a further slowing in service sector growth.

However, it‟s the unbalanced nature of the upturn among member states that is the most worrying. France looks increasingly like the new “sick man of Europe‟, as a second successive monthly contraction may translate into another quarterly decline in GDP, pushing the country back into a technical recession. In contrast, the December survey data round off a solid quarter of growth in Germany, in which GDP looks set to rise by 0.5%.

There‟s little here to suggest that euro area policymakers need to increase their stimulus, but on the other hand the sluggish nature of the upturn adds to the sense that policy will remain ultra- accommodative for quite some time.

And here’s some reaction to the news that growth in Germany manufacturing sector is currently running at a 30-month high….

Tim Moore, senior economist at Markit:

 Manufacturing achieved a particularly strong end to the year, with improving new order flows and renewed job creation also providing encouragement that the sector has gained momentum since the autumn.

Growth of new work was the fastest for over two-and- a-half years while stocks of finished goods were depleted at an accelerated pace.

Quite a contrast with France, where firms reported that orders are falling (see 8.23am)

Now over to Germany…..

Germany’s private sector is leaving France in the dust, Markit reports, led by its manufacturers.

Private sector output in the eurozone’s largest economy is growing steadily this month, for the eighth month in a row.

German factories saw output growth accelerate, pushing the manufacturing PMI up to a 30-month high of 54.2, up from 52.7 in November.

Service sector firms expanded at a slower pace than in November, but growth was still solid. The Service sector PMI was 54.0, down from 55.7.

This meant the composite German private sector PMI fell slightly to 55.2 in December, down slightly on November’s 55.4 — but still indicating healthy expansion.

That suggests Germany’s economy will grow this quarter.

Credit Agricole’s Frederik Ducrozet points out that other French economic surveys have been less pessimistic than the PMI readings…

And this graph shows how recent PMI data has been more negative than the official growth data:

Updated

French PMI: Instant reaction

Here’s how experts are reacting to the news of France’s weakening private sector:

Markit chief economist Chris Williamson said the drop in French private sector activity suggests that France’s GDP will shrink by about 0.1% in the current quarter.

That would follow the 0.1% contraction in July-September — putting France back into recession (defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth)

Williamson added:

The pipeline of work that companies have to deal with is drying up and we’ll get to a stage where, if that doesn’t turn around, there will be increased job losses.

French private sector keeps shrinking

France could be sliding into a double-dip recession, as its private sector activity continues to fall this month.

Data provider Markit reports that the rate of decline in French private sector output accelerated during December. It recorded the biggest contraction in output in seven months.

That suggesting that France’s economy is still shrinking, as manufacturers and service sector struggle to win new contracts.

The Markit Flash France Composite Output Index, slipped to 47.0, from 48.0 in November — that’s the second month in a row that it’s been below 50 points (which signals a drop in activity).

In a report shy of good news, Markit found that new orders are decreasing in the French private sector, meaning companies are relying on existing work to keep busy.

 Backlogs of work fell solidly and at the sharpest pace in eight months, it said. Staffing levels also continued to decline during December, as firms shed staff.

Andrew Harker, Senior Economist at Markit, said the readings “paint a worrying picture on the health of the French economy.

The return to contraction in November has been followed up with a sharper reduction in December, with falling new business at the heart of this as clients were reportedly reluctant to commit to new contracts.

Firms will hope that such reticence ends in the new year as they seek to avoid another protracted downturn.

Details to follow….

Chinese factory growth slows

Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of events across the world economy, the financial markets, the eurozone, and the business world.

The last full working week of 2013 (in these parts, anyway) begins with the news that growth in China’s factory sector has slowed this month, for the third month in a row.

It’s that stage in the month when data provider Markit produces its ‘flash’ estimates of activity in key economies, based on interviews with purchasing managers (We get data from France and Germany this morning too).

And China’s PMI has fallen to 50.5 for December, from November’s 50.8, with firms reporting that output growth slowed. That’s closer to the 50-point mark that splits expansion from contraction.

It may suggest the global economy is ending the year on a weaker note. As well as slowing output growth, firms also reported a drop in employment. On a happier note, new orders have picked up.

The news sent China’s stock market sliding to a four-week low, with the Shanghai Composite Index shedding 1.6%.

That’s set the tone for an edgy start to the week, as global investors await the US Federal Reserve’s monthly meeting on Wednesday night (where the Fed might take the plunge and slow the pace of its stimulus programme).

Also on the agenda– the implications of Germany’s new government, after the CDU and the SPD formally formed a coalition over the weekend.

And I’ll be keeping an eye on Greece, where the government and the Troika are continuing to hold talks over its bailout programme…..

Updated

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While jobs growth and output are rising fast in the construction industry, retail offers a more mixed picture of the UK economy. Forecasting groups have modest expectations for growth in 2014: a 2% increase in GDP following 1.4% in 2013…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Construction and retail – contrasting perspectives on UK economic recovery” was written by Larry Elliott, economics editor, for The Guardian on Tuesday 5th November 2013 00.01 UTC

Construction and retailing offer contrasting perspectives on Britain’s economic recovery. On the UK’s building sites, things are looking up . The monthly construction industry health check from CIPS/Markit showed jobs growth and output rising at their fastest for six years. Although that may be more a reflection of the deep hole the sector plunged into during the recession, sentiment has certainly improved. The Government’s Help to Buy scheme has boosted house building, but Monday’s report suggests demand for commercial property is also on the up.

Tuesday’s report from the British Retailers Consortium is more mixed. After a strong summer, spending growth in the high street has cooled in the last couple of months. That could be because sales of new winter fashions have been hit by unseasonally warm weather, or it could be that consumers are saving up for a big splurge at Christmas. It could be that individuals are finding it hard to make the sums add up during a prolonged period when prices have been rising more quickly than wages. In all probability, the cautious mood is a combination of all three.

Rising consumer spending is the reason economic activity picked up in the second and third quarters of the year. There was little boost from the other components of growth -– investment, exports and the state – so the expansion was the result of higher household spending. How is this possible when real earnings are falling? In part, spending has been encouraged by rising employment. In part, it has been aided by stronger consumer confidence, which has led to people running down the precautionary savings they built up when they were more pessimistic about the future.

Clearly, consumers will be unable to continue dipping into their savings to fund their spending for ever. That’s why forecasting groups such as the National Institute for Economic Research have only modest expectations for growth in 2014: a 2% increase in GDP following 1.4% in 2013. NIESR sees little prospect of stronger investment kicking in, and with the prospects for exporters decidedly mixed that means consumers will again bear the strain.

Even so, the NIESR forecast looks too low. There will be some recovery in investment in response to stronger consumer spending. More significantly, perhaps, the housing market now has real momentum and that will lead to some further drop in the savings ratio to compensate for squeezed incomes.

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Minutes of latest monetary policy committee meeting signal interest rates could rise sooner than 2016. Bank of England policymakers have been surprised at how rapidly growth has picked up and unemployment has fallen since the spring…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Growing evidence of ‘robust recovery’ in UK economy, says Bank of England” was written by Heather Stewart, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 23rd October 2013 10.34 UTC

Bank of England policymakers have been surprised at how rapidly growth has picked up and unemployment has fallen since the spring, raising the prospect of an earlier-than-expected rise in interest rates.

The Bank’s nine-member monetary policy committee voted unanimously to leave policy unchanged earlier this month; but minutes of their meeting showed that a strong increase in employment, and upbeat readings from business surveys, had prompted them to upgrade their expectations for growth.

Discussing the upbeat jobs data released this month, the minutes said: “It now therefore seemed probable that unemployment would be lower, and output growth faster, in the second half of 2013 than expected at the time of the August Inflation Report.”

They described the latest news as pointing to a “robust recovery in activity” in the UK – though they also warn about the lack of the kind of rebalancing in the economy, towards trade and away from consumer spending, that the coalition was hoping for. “There is a risk that the recovery in the United Kingdom might be less well balanced between exports and domestic consumption than was ultimately needed.”

One of the Bank’s first decisions after its governor, Mark Carney, joined in July was to issue “forward guidance”, promising to keep interest rates unchanged until the unemployment rate falls to 7%, barring a surge in inflation.

When the policy was unveiled in August, Carney said he expected unemployment to remain above 7% at least until 2016; but a slew of data, including a fall in the unemployment rate to 7.7% in the three months to July, had raised doubts in markets about whether the Bank would wait so long before deciding to act. Wednesday’s minutes suggest the MPC may be coming round to the idea that the 7% threshold could be reached sooner, though the committee stressed that “it was too early to draw a strong inference about future prospects from the latest data”.

Simon Wells, UK economist at HSBC, said: “We expect the MPC to bring forward the timing of unemployment hitting the 7% threshold by around two quarters when it revises its forecasts in November.”

Discussions among MPC members also highlighted the growing strength of Britain’s housing market, which they expect to boost the economy. “Overall, indicators pointed to continued house price rises. This would increase the collateral available to both households and small businesses, which could provide some further support to activity,” the minutes say.

In the latest indication of a revival in the property market, the British Bankers Association announced on Wednesday that the number of mortgages approved by UK banks to fund house purchases reached 42,990 in September, its highest level in almost four years and well above the previous six-month average of 42,990.

The BBA data, which covers the run-up to the launch of Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme, shows that activity in the housing market continued to gain momentum over the summer, with house purchase loans showing the biggest increase month-on-month.

The BBA said its members approved new loans worth a total of £10.5bn in September, up from £9.9bn in August and above the six-month average of £9bn. Of this, £6.7bn was for house purchases and £3.5bn for remortgages. The remainder was other secured borrowing.

The BBA statistics director, David Dooks, said: “September’s figures build on the growing picture of improved consumer confidence, with stronger gross mortgage lending, rising house purchase approvals and increased consumer credit.”

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In May, the US treasury was able to employ some “extraordinary measures” to keep borrowing. These measures run out on 17 October. If the USS America goes down, little HMAS Australia will find it tough not to get sucked into the vortex…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Why Australia should fear a US government default” was written by Greg Jericho, for theguardian.com on Monday 7th October 2013 07.34 UTC

The current US government shutdown has little impact on Australia, but if the US hits the debt ceiling Australia will feel the consequences of a bitterly partisan US political system.

One of the more ironic aspects of the US government shutdown is that if it goes on for much longer, the government won’t be able to calculate its economic impact because it won’t be able to collect the data.

Last Friday was supposed to be the most recent release of US jobs figures, and yet those logging on to the BLS website would have seen this:

During the shutdown the BLS won’t be able to collect the data to calculate the employment figures. Similarly the Bureau of Economic Analysis is also shut down, which rather makes collating data for the GDP figures a tad tricky.

But for Australians the big issue is not so much the shutdown. Costly as it is to the American economy – wiping about 0.1% of GDP growth each week – it does not have a great direct impact outside its borders. After all there are not many Australians employed by the US government or about to go to a US national park this weekend. The real bitter pill for the rest of the world (and US) comes in a couple weeks when the US reaches its debt ceiling.

The debt ceiling is often lazily referred to as the US government’s credit card limit, but it is not about giving the US government the right to spend more, but the ability to borrow to pay off spending it has already undertaken.

The debt ceiling is currently at $US16.699tn, and was actually reached in May but the US treasury was able to employ some “extraordinary measures” to keep borrowing. These measures will run out on 17 October.

At that point the US will no longer be able to borrow money to pay its bills. In the short run that is OK, because the US government gets enough cash from tax revenue to cover its expenses. But on 1 November it gets a bill for US$67bn for social security, medicare and veterans benefits. By 15 November the US government will be short about US$108bn. And that means defaulting on its payments.

No one really knows what will happen if the debt ceiling is not raised. Views range from, it’ll be fine, to it’ll be Armageddon. The US Treasury for its part has put out a paper that paints a pretty scary picture.

After looking at what has occurred in 2011 when the US nearly reached the debt limit, it concluded that a debt default “could have a catastrophic effect on not just financial markets but also on job creation, consumer spending and economic growth”.

It also noted that “many private-sector analysts believing that it would lead to events of the magnitude of late 2008 or worse, and the result then was a recession more severe than any seen since the Great Depression”.

And just in case you are a glass-half-full kind of person and you still have some optimism, the report ends on this less than upbeat note: “Considering the experience of countries around that world that have defaulted on their debt… [the] consequences, including high interest rates, reduced investment, higher debt payments, and slow economic growth, could last for more than a generation.”

Cheery.

Thus far the markets have been rather sanguine. The US Treasury 10-year bond yields are lower now than they were a month ago – suggesting investors are not too spooked about the long-term US economy. There is also a sense that investors are a bit jaded – the debt ceiling fight is now becoming an annual event.

But in the past few days, investors have become very worried about holding US treasury bonds which mature in the next month.

The spread of the six-month to one-month treasury bonds fell off a cliff, to the point where investors are now demanding a higher return for buying a one-month US treasury bond than for a six-month.

Should the default actually occur you could expect those jaded investors would suddenly get very alert. A US government default would put the world economy into uncharted waters. Around 87 % of all foreign exchange transactions involve US dollars. If the US government can no longer guarantee it will pay its bills (even for a short time), that rather upsets the integrity of the entire system.

In 2011 when the debt ceiling was almost breached, the US’s credit rating was downgraded to AA. It hurt US confidence, put a big hand brake on economic growth, and the turmoil on financial markets reduced American household wealth by around US$2.4tn.

For Australia, in 2011 our dollar at the time soared to US$1.10 as the American currency lost value. With the value of our dollar already rising the last thing our manufacturing sector needs is for the dollar to be given a boost.

For the moment most expect congress to back down and raise the debt ceiling (or perhaps even suspend it for a few more months like they did last year).

But Australians should hope that the US gets its act in order soon. While it is nice to think that we are now bound to China, a look over the past 20 years shows that aside from extraordinary circumstances – such as the dotcom bubble and September 11 attack, and our mining boom in 2006 – Australia and the US’s GDP growth is quite closely linked.

Our economy is like a dinghy in the ocean of the international economy. If the US scuttles itself though political intransigence, without another mining boom, little HMAS Australia would find it tough not to get sucked into the vortex as USS America goes down.

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Bank of England governor’s move to persuade markets that interest rates will not immediately rise has provoked skepticism. His first 100 days as Bank of England governor have been a noisy medley of speeches, impeccably tailored photo-calls and pzazz…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Is Mark Carney’s forward guidance plan a step backwards?” was written by Heather Stewart, for theguardian.com on Monday 7th October 2013 14.00 UTC

If Mark Carney was going to live up to his billing as a “rock star central banker” – and his £874,000 a year pay package – he had to arrive in Threadneedle Street on a crashing crescendo. His first 100 days as Bank of England governor have been a noisy medley of speeches, impeccably tailored photo-calls and pzazz.

From the need for more women on banknotes to his love of Everton football club, Carney has had plenty to say on a range of subjects since his appointment on 1 July this year. However, it’s the Bank’s new policy tool of forward guidance that has provoked the most interest, and a good measure of scepticism, among seasoned Bank-watchers.

Honed by Carney in Canada and adopted by the US Federal Reserve and the ECB in different forms, forward guidance is a way of signalling to the public and financial markets how the Bank will respond to shifts in the economy. In this case, the monetary policy committee has pledged to keep interest rates at their record low of 0.5% at least until the unemployment rate falls to 7%.

“Forward guidance is an attempt to persuade the markets that interest rates are not immediately going to go up,” says John Van Reenen, director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics. “It’s one more tool in the toolbox.”

However, as implemented by Carney and his colleagues in the UK, guidance is hedged about with three separate “knockouts” – rates would rise if inflation, financial stability or the public’s inflation expectations got out of control. Moreover, the governor has stressed that the 7% unemployment rate is not a trigger for a rate rise, but a “staging post”, which will not necessarily prompt tighter policy.

During a somewhat fraught hearing with MPs on the cross-party Treasury select committee last month, in which Carney sought to clarify the policy, chairman Andrew Tyrie expostulated that it would be a hard one to explain “down the Dog and Duck”.

Financial markets have also been less than convinced. The yield, or effective interest rate, on British government bonds – partly a measure of investors’ expectations of future interest rates – has risen rather than fallen since the Bank’s announcement. That is partly because the latest data suggests the economic outlook is improving, but rapidly rising bond yields can be worrying because they tend to push up borrowing costs right across the economy. Carney, though, has insisted he is not concerned.

Meanwhile the pound has risen almost 4% against the dollar since Carney took the helm – again signalling markets expect rates to rise sooner than the Bank is indicating. Last week sterling hit a nine-month high, although it came off that peak as investors began to question if the UK’s recovery could continue at its current pace.

“I don’t think in practice forward guidance is very successful,” says Jamie Dannhauser of Lombard Street Research. He believes Carney has failed to convince the City he means business, because he has failed to back up forward guidance with action, such as the promise of a fresh round of quantitative easing – the Bank scheme that has pumped £375bn of freshly minted money into the economy.

“[Forward guidance] doesn’t work if you’re not willing to take on the markets if you don’t get your way,” says Dannhauser.

David Blanchflower, a former member of the MPC, is more blunt: “He looks already, within a hundred days, to have lost control. Bond yields are rising, the pound is rising like mad, and they’ve got no response.”

He argues that the hedged nature of the new policy is likely to reflect “horse-trading” between Carney and his fellow MPC members. Unlike in Canada, where what the central bank governor says goes, decision-making on the MPC is by vote. With a recovery now under way, its various members are known to have differing views on what are the most pressing risks to the economy.

Another former MPC member said: “Had I been on the MPC I would have let him do it [forward guidance], because I don’t think it does any particular harm; but I don’t think it does much good either.”

It’s not just the Bank’s approach to monetary policy that has changed on Carney’s watch. When outgoing deputy governor Paul Tucker, who missed out on the top job, leaves for the US later this month, it will mark the latest in a number of personnel changes that are starting to make Carney’s Bank look quite different from Lord (Mervyn) King’s.

Blue-blooded banker Charlotte Hogg joined as the Bank’s new chief operating officer, a post that didn’t exist under the old regime, on the same day as Carney. Meanwhile Tucker will be replaced by former Treasury and Foreign Office apparatchik Sir Jon Cunliffe. With long-serving deputy governor Charlie Bean due to leave early in 2014, Carney will be given another opportunity to bring in a new broom.

Insiders say the atmosphere in the Bank’s Threadneedle Street headquarters has already changed. Carney is often seen eating lunch in the canteen or showing visitors around. His approach is less hierarchical than that of King, who was derided as the “Sun King”, by former chancellor Alistair Darling – though Carney is said to be no keener on intellectual dissent than his predecessor.

He will need all the allies he can get both inside and outside the Bank, if he is to deal successfully with what many analysts see as the greatest threat facing the economy: the risk that an unsustainable bubble is starting to inflate in Britain’s boom-bust housing market.

Carney and his colleagues on the Bank’s Financial Policy Committee (FPC), the group tasked with preventing future crashes which partly overlaps with the MPC, have new powers to rein in mortgage lending if they believe a bubble is emerging, and the governor has said he won’t hesitate to use them.

But the FPC is untested and largely unknown to the public, and bubbles are notoriously hard to spot. Using the FPC’s influence to choke off the supply of high loan-to-value mortgages, for example, would be hugely controversial at a time when large numbers of would-be buyers have been frozen out of the market. Meanwhile, the government’s extension of the Help to Buy scheme, with details to be laid out on Tuesday, is likely to increase the demand for property, potentially pushing up prices.

Van Reenen warns that if property prices do take off, Carney could find himself in an unenviable position. “We have this terrible problem in this country that house prices have got completely out of kilter with incomes. I would be very reluctant to see interest rates start pushing up. Using other methods, such as being tougher on Help to Buy, and trying to do things through prudential regulation is better – but the fundamental thing is lack of houses, and Carney can’t do anything about that.”

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Chinese finance minister: US must act fast. US Treasury secretary: Congress is ‘playing with fire’. Goldman Sachs: 4.2% wiped off US GDP without debt deal. The US AAA credit rating was downgraded by S&P two years ago after the last debt ceiling standoff…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “China warns US over debt ceiling, as markets fall again – live” was written by Graeme Wearden, for theguardian.com on Monday 7th October 2013 14.40 UTC

Oil price drops

The oil price is down today, with a barrel of Brent crude dropping by over one dollar to $108.44.

That doesn’t look to be related to the US standoff, though. Instead, it reflects relief that Tropical Storm Karen weakened over the weekend. That means oil work in the Gulf of Mexico is resuming, having been suspended a few days ago as Karen approached.

China’s warning to America to raise its debt ceiling swiftly comes as the issue becomes intertwined with Congress’s failure a week ago to agree a budget for the new fiscal year (triggering the partial government shutdown).

Terry Morris, senior vice president of National Penn Investors Trust Company in Pennsylvania, says the deadlock is a growing worry, telling Reuters:

Now you’ve got not only the budget but the debt ceiling and time is running out and everybody knows it..

The longer this goes on, the more the uncertainty, the closer the deadline and the more nervous investors are going to be.

Gold has risen to a one-week high, with the spot price gaining 1.3% to $1,327 a ounce.

Updated

Although shares are down on Wall Street, there’s no sign of panic in the US stock markets over the budget and debt ceiling deadlock.

Todd Horwitz of Average Joe Options is telling Bloomberg TV that traders don’t like the uncertainty caused by the ‘blowhards in Washington’, saying:

It’s not a panic selloff, it’s very controlled.

Horwitz added that trading volumes are light at the moment, but could pick up as the debt ceiling deadline approached

The closer we get to the 17th [October], the more action we’ll see.

Wall Sreet open: Dow falls

Shares are falling in New York as the echoes from the Wall Street opening bell fade away.

The Dow Jones industrial average is down 140 points in the first few minutes to 14931, a drop of almost 1%.

The other indices are also down, matching losses in Europe.

FTSE 100: down 51 points at 6403, – 0.8%

German DAX: down 73 points at 8549 ,- 0.85%

French CAC: down 28 points at 4136, -0.67%

Reaction to follow

Business is underway in Washington DC, with White Officials sticking to their position that President Barack Obama will not negotiate with congressional Republicans under the threat of a debt default.

Via Reuters:

“There has never been a period where you have a serious faction or a serious strategy by one political party … to use the threat of default as the main tactic in extracting policy,” White House National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling said at a Politico breakfast on Monday.

On asset class isn’t suffering from the looming debt ceiling today – US sovereign debt.

The price of 10-year Treasury bonds has actually risen this morning, showing stronger demand for America’s debt.

One-month bills are slightly weaker today, but are still changing hands at a yield (or rate of return) or just 0.147%. That doesn’t suggest bond traders are frantically dashing to sell them.

US debt is still being treated as a a place of safety, even though it’s at the centre of this particular storm.

Nick Dale-Lace, senior sales trader at CMC Markets, comments:

Ironically it seems one beneficiary of a risk off morning is US treasuries, with investors continuing to flock to the very bonds that are apparently at risk of default.

The ramifications of a default on bond markets are not clear cut, with much confusion about what the fallout would be given the dependency of the financial world on US debt markets. What are the legal triggers of such a default and are they irreversible? With every minute passed we edge closer to the unknown, and that is rarely good for the markets

US politicians get their chance to heed China’s chiding over the debt ceiling, when Congress returns to work today.

Both the House and the Senate will be in session, with votes scheduled for the afternoon.

However, none of the legislation on the table amounts to the ‘clean’ budget bill (stripped of cuts to the Affordable Care act) which the Democrats are demanding.

CBS’s News Mark Knoller is tweeting the state of play:

China warns US on debt ceiling crisis

China has raised the pressure on the US today, warning that time is running out to raise its debt ceiling.

Vice finance minister Zhu Guangyao told reporters in Beijing that America needs to take decisive steps to prevent hitting its debt limit in a fortnight’s time. The intervention came as European stock markets remained lower, on the seventh day of the US shutdown.

In the Chinese government’s first public comments on the deadlock, Zhu also urged Washington politicians to “learn lessons from history”. A reminder that the US AAA credit rating was downgraded by S&P two years ago after the last debt ceiling standoff.

Zhu said (quotes via Reuters):

The United States is totally clear about China’s concerns about the fiscal cliff.

We ask that the United States earnestly takes steps to resolve in a timely way before October 17 the political [issues] around the debt ceiling and prevent a U.S. debt default to ensure safety of Chinese investments in the United States and the global economic recovery

This is the United States’ responsibility.

As the biggest single holder of US debt, China would be in the front line to suffer if Treasury prices fell – and would obviously be hit if the US were to stumble into a technical default.

Beijing must have watched the deadlock in Washington with growing alarm (yesterday, Republicans continued to demand healthcare cuts as the Treasury Secretary warning Congress was playing with fire).

Analysts were already concerned about the lack of progress (round-up here). with Goldman Sachs warning of drastic cutbacks if America breaches the debt ceiling (details here).

Zhu’s warning added to the jitteriness in the City. Shares remain down across Europe’s trading floors, with the FTSE 100 down 50 points at 6402, a fall of 0.8%. The German and French stock markets are both down around 1%. Here’s a round-up:

Alastair McCaig, market analyst at IG, says there is an increasing ‘fear factor’ in the City as America moves closer to its debt ceiling:

The news that US politicians have again put self-interest ahead of the greater good of the country by failing to make any progress in sorting out the budget or tackling the debt ceiling will have surprised few.

As yet the US debt markets have remained calm but the closer we get to the mid-October deadline the less likely that is to remain the case.

And as mentioned earlier, the US dollar is still down against most major currencies. The pound has gained almost 0.5% to $1.608 so far today.

Updated

US showdown: What the experts are saying

Here’s a round-up of what City experts are saying about the deadlock in America over its budget talks, and the debt ceiling — which the US will hit on 17 October.

Louise Cooper of Cooper City:

As the disaster that is Washington continues, the world needs bond vigilantes to bring the political class to its senses. Sadly thanks to the Federal Reserve’s endless QE, that restraint and imposed market discipline is no longer in place. And that is dangerous. Without the market check, Washington is risking ruin.

So how are these “bond vigilantes” and how do they impose discipline on the ruling classes? They are simply the mass of investors in government debt who by their actions force governments back to the financial straight and narrow. If they think a Nation is spending too much without enough taxation, resulting in excessive deficits and ballooning debt, they will demand a higher interest rate. That is basic finance; higher risk is compensated by a higher return. So as a Nation’s debt rises rapidly, the nation has to pay higher interest rates. So bond yields – borrowing costs – rise. And that is the restraint imposed upon governments – borrowing becomes more expensive the more fiscally irresponsible the government becomes.

That is the check to stop politicians getting their country overly indebted.

And it is the same mechanism with irresponsible monetary policy too – a higher yield is required by investors to compensate for the loss in monetary value from inflation. So bond investors are really important for financially feckless nations, because they that drag the ruling classes back to sensible economic policies (by demanding higher interest rates).

But the problem is that the Federal Reserve is currently buying $85bn of bonds a month, manipulating America’s borrowing costs lower.

The Fed is the biggest player in the markets and if it wants bond yields down then few will bet they will go up. Thus there is no corrective mechanism. Without the Fed’s QE, the current Washington fiasco would have increased America’s borrowing costs and that would have helped to force politicians back to the negotiating table. It now looks likely that the Fed didn’t taper in September as it was concerned about the impact the shutdown would have on the economy. It is also likely that with no non farm payrolls figure being released on Friday, the Fed will not taper in October either.

Implicitly the Federal Reserve is bailing out the incompetency of Washington. The stick has been removed allowing the political class to play wild and threaten default.

Kit Juckes of Societe Generale

I have no vote and hope I am non-partisan in this debate but I think that this is a row about principles as much as about power, which argues for a drawn-out impasse, though the odds still favour last-minute resolution. A good question (from Joe Weisenthal) was what the Republicans would have used to justify the stalemate if Obamacare wasn’t there to argue over.

And while I am sure the GOP could have found a reason for disruptive politics, it also seems clear that Obamacare is too important to the President’s ‘legacy’ for him to compromise on that, while the right wing of the GOP is opposed on principle as much as anything else. But it’s also clear that the Republicans are
‘losing’ the public relations war. I don’t think that merely reflects my Twitter stream or choice of on-line reading.

The big winner of this mess will be Hilary Clinton. And that, in turn, means that a compromise, with tax cuts elsewhere, is likely to be found to get a deal through that allows the debt ceiling to be increased by 17 October.

Jane Foley of Rabobank

The rallying call of Republican House Speaker Boehner over the weekend that it is “time for us to stand up and fight” looks set to commit the shutdown of the US government into a second week.

The vote by Congress in favour of paying the government workers who has been sent home on leave will offset some concerns about the economic costs of the shutdown. Even so, with the October 17 deadline for a debt default looming, investors are likely to become increasingly nervous with every passing day.

Marc Ostwald of Monument Securities:

Shutdown Day 7 is unfortunately the theme for the day, and quite possibly for the week…

While mutterings ahead of the weekend suggested that Boehner said he would make sure that there was no default, and some hopeful whispers of a few Tea Party aligned members of the House softening their stance, positioning as the week starts appears to be even more entrenched.

The backlog of official US economic data is building quite rapidly with little obvious prospect of anything being published this week. One assumes that the end of week G20 meeting of finance ministers and central bank heads may have little else to discuss, though the protests about the US political impasse (assuming it has not been resolved) from other G7 and EM countries will be vociferous.

Elsa Lignos of RBC Europe:

The hard line on both sides has unsurprisingly been taken negatively by risky assets. The Yen and Swiss franc are outperforming, US equity futures are pushing down towards Thursday’s lows, while US Treasuries are still trading sideways.

It is still a case of waiting and watching on developments in Washington. Our US Strategists expect that the longer the government remains dark, the greater the likelihood that the shutdown and debt ceiling issues are resolved together, which would result in a better outcome

Investec Corporate Treasury

Some analysts have estimated that default is likely by November 1st when the Treasury Department is scheduled to make nearly $60 billion in payments to Social Security recipients, Medicare providers, civil service retirees, and active duty military service members.

With such a limited window of time available all eyes will be on the US this week to see if a resolution can be reached. In the meantime expect the US shutdown to dominate currency markets and be prepared for some volatility if a default starts to look more likely.

Updated

Greek budget predicts growth in 2014

Back to Greece, where the government has predicted a return to growth next year after a six-year slump.

The draft 2014 budget, announced this morning by deputy finance minister Christos Staikouras, also forecasts a surplus excluding debt financing costs. This is a crucial target for Athens as it aims to agree further assistance from its international partners.

Reuters has the details:

Greece will emerge from six years of recession next year, its draft 2014 budget projected on Monday, in one of the strongest signs yet that the country has left the worst of its crippling debt crisis behind.

The economy, which has shrunk about a quarter since its peak in 2007, will grow by 0.6% next year thanks to a rebound in investment and exports including tourism, the budget predicted. The economy is set to contract by 4 percent this year. Athens is also targeting a primary budget surplus of 1.6% of national output next year and is on track to post a small surplus this year.

Attaining a primary surplus – excluding debt servicing costs – is key to helping Athens secure debt relief from its international lenders.

“In the last three years Greece found itself in a painful recession with an unprecedented level of unemployment,” Deputy Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said as he unveiled the 2014 budget.

“Since this year the sacrifices have begun to yield fruit, giving the first signs of an exit from the crisis.”

These signs of recovery are encouraging hedge funds to buy stakes in Greek banks (see 9.12am) and fuelling rumours that Greece could swap some debt for new 50-year bond (see opening post).

The budget also shows that Greece will run a deficit of 2.4% (including debt costs). This will push its public debt to 174.5% of GDP, despite investors taking a haircut early last year.

How much damage would be caused if American politicians doesn’t raise the debt ceiling before the October 17 deadline?

Goldman Sachs has crunched the numbers, and told clients over the weekend that the Treasury would be forced into a drastic cutback in spending from the end of October which would wipe 4.2% off annualised GDP.

The research note (from Saturday, but still well worth flagging) showed how the Treasury is on track to hit its borrowing limit in two weeks.

After that point, the amount of money coming into the Treasury will equal only about 65% of spending going out, Goldman said. There are various ways that the US could play for time — such as prioritising some payments over others, or delaying payments altogether.

But officials would soon be forced to implement measures that would hurt growth badly, in a bid to avoid missing a debt repayment and triggering a downgrade to Selective Default status.

Here’s a flavour of the note:

If the debt limit is not raised before the Treasury depletes its cash balance, it could force the Treasury to rapidly eliminate the budget deficit to stay under the debt ceiling. We estimate that the fiscal pullback would amount to as much as 4.2% of GDP (annualized). The effect on quarterly growth rates (rather than levels) could be even greater. If this were allowed to occur, it could lead to a rapid downturn in economic activity if not reversed very quickly.

And more detail….

A very short delay past the October deadline—for instance, a few days—could delay the payment of some obligations already incurred and would create instability in the financial markets. This uncertainty alone could weigh on growth.

But a long delay—for example, several weeks—would likely result in a government shutdown much broader than the one that started October 1. In the current shutdown, there is ample cash available to pay for government activities, but the administration has lost its authority to conduct “non-essential” discretionary programs which make up about 15% of the federal budget.

By contrast, if the debt limit were not increased, after late October the administration would still have authority to make most of its scheduled payments, but would not have enough cash available to do so.

US deadlock hits euro investors

The US government shutdown debacle has hit investor confidence within the eurozone, according to the latest data from German research firm Sentix.

Sentix’s monthly measure of investor sentiment dropped to 6.1, from 6.5 in September. Analyst had expected the index to jump to 8.0, but it appears morale has suffered from the deadlock in Washington.

Sentix reported that investors’ current assessment of the United States, and the assessment of prospects in six-months time, has been noticeably damaged by the budget row and the debt ceiling fears. Its headline index for the US dropped to 16.8, from 24.8 last month.

Overall indices for the emerging markets regions rose, while those surveyed remain optimism for Japan’s prospects.

Over in Italy, Silvio Berlusconi is preparing to request a community service sentence, following his tax fraud conviction in August.

Berlusconi, whose efforts to bring down the Italian government (and reignite the eurozone crisis) failed last week, has now turned his attention to his legal troubles.

From Rome, Lizzy Davies has the story:

“Silent and humble manual tasks” are not something to which Silvio Berlusconi has ever felt naturally drawn. Before big business and politics he sold vacuum cleaners and sang on cruise ships.

Now, however, thanks to the Italian legal system, a very different kind of activity awaits him. His lawyer has said he intends to ask to serve his sentence for tax fraud in a community service placement.

Franco Coppi said that barring any last-minute changes, the former prime minister’s legal team would submit the request to the Milan courts by the end of this week. It would be then up to the judges to decide how to proceed.

More here: Silvio Berlusconi to request community service for tax fraud sentence 

Former Greek minister convicted over money-laundering charges

Court drama in Athens this morning, where a former defence minister has been found guilty of money-laundering.

Akis Tzohatzopoulos was one of 17 defendants convicted after a five-month trial. Associated Press reports that Tzohatzopoulos’s wife, ex-wife and daughter were also found guilty.

Tzohatzopoulos was charged with accepting bribes in exchange for agreeing military hardware contracts, in the 1990s and the early 2000s. The court heard that these kickbacks were laundered through a network of offshore companies and property purchases.

Sentences will be handed down tomorrow.

Greek journalist Nick Malkoutzis reckons this is the most serious conviction of a Greek politician in around 20 years.

In March, Tzohatzopoulos was convicted of corruption charges, after lying on his income statements and hiding luxurious spending. He was jailed for eight years following that case.

Updated

Some interesting stories about Greece this morning. First up: John Paulson, the hedge fund boss who made billions of dollars betting against America’s mortgage market before the crisis began, is a big fan of Greek banks.

Paulson is making a serious move into the Greek financial sector, as investors gamble that the worst of its woes are over.

The FT has the details:

Mr Paulson, best known for his successful wager against the US subprime mortgage market in 2007, praised Greece’s “very favourable pro-business government”.

“The Greek economy is improving, which should benefit the banking sector,” Mr Paulson told the Financial Times.

He confirmed his fund, Paulson & Co, had substantial stakes in Piraeus and Alpha, the two banks that have emerged in best shape from the crisis. “[Both] are now very well capitalised and poised to recover [with] good management,” he said in rare public comments.

More here: Paulson leads charge into Greek banks

The US dollar has also dropped this morning against most major currencies. This pushed the yen up around 0.5%, to ¥ 96.9 to the dollar. That won’t please Japanese exporters, who’d rather see the yen over the ¥100 mark.

America’s stock indices are also expected to drop around 0.8% when trading begins in about 6 hours, Marketwatch flags up.

The head of ratings agency Moody’s reckons America won’t default, even if it ploughs into the debt ceiling this month.

Raymond McDaniel told CNBC overnight:

Hopefully it is unlikely that we go past October 17 and fail to raise the debt ceiling, but even if that does happen, then we think that the U.S. Treasury is still going to pay on those Treasury securities.

Markets drop:

Europe’s stock markets have followed Asia by falling in early trading, as investors fret over the lack of progress over America’s government shutdown.

In London the FTSE 100 swiftly shed 46 points, or 0.7%, with 95 of the companies on the index . It’s a similar tale across Europe’s markets, with Germany’s DAX down 0.85% and the French CAC shedding 0.75%

Mike van Dulken of Accendo Markets sums up the mood in the City:

Sentiment is still dampened by USuncertainty as the partial shutdown moves into its second week and the more troubling debt ceiling of 17 October nears. How long will this drag on for? Only the politicians know.

The congressional stalemate shows no signs of progress with House Speaker Boehner adamant that a clean spending bill will not be approved while Treasury Secretary Lew says congress is playing with fire putting the nation’s sovereign reputation at risk, on top of President Obama’s highlighting of the potential impact on Q4 GDP.

It all adds up to another sea of red on the European markets:

Updated

World Bank cuts China growth forecasts

America’s deadlock isn’t the only issue worrying the City today. The World Bank has warned that East Asia’s economic growth is slowing as it cut its GDP forecasts several nations, including China.

In a new report, the Bank said weaker commodity prices means weaker growth in the region. It also urged Chinese policymakers to tackle the consequences of recent loose policy and tighten financial supervision.

Here’s a flavour:

Developing East Asia is expanding at a slower pace as China shifts from an export-oriented economy and focuses on domestic demand,” the World Bank said in its latest East Asia Pacific Economic Update report.

“Growth in larger middle-income countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand is also softening in light of lower investment, lower global commodity prices and lower-than-expected growth of exports,” it added.

It now expects the Chinese economy to expand by 7.5% this year, down from its April forecast of 8.3%. For 2014, the forecast is cut from 8% to 7.7%.

Full story here: World Bank cuts China growth forecasts

US deadlock continues to worry the markets

Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of the financial markets, the world economy, the eurozone and the business world.

It’s the seventh day of the US government shutdown, and the lack of progress in Washington continues to cast a shadow over the financial world.

Shares have slipped in Asia overnight; in Japan, the Nikkei shed another 1.2%. European markets are expected to fall again.

America seems no closer to a solution to the deadlock, nearly a week after the Federal government began shutting services and sending workers home. It is, though, closer to its debt ceiling — the US is still on track to hit its maximum borrowing limit of $16.7bn on 17 October.

Yesterday, Treasury secretary Jack Lew warned that America would default if the ceiling isn’t raised. Congress, he said, was ”playing with fire”.

Lew said:

I’m telling you that on the 17th, we run out of the ability to borrow, and Congress is playing with fire.

But the Republican-controlled House of Representatives hasn’t blinked — continuing to demand concessions from President Obama.

House speaker John Boehner was defiant last night, saying his side would “stand and fight” for concessions on issues like healthcare reforms.

Boehner told ABC television:

You’ve never seen a more dedicated group of people who are thoroughly concerned about the future of our country.

The nation’s credit is at risk because of the administration’s refusal to sit down and have a conversation.

So the deadlock continues, with investors pondering whether this impasse really could turn into a catastrophic debt default.

Stan Shamu of IG explains that traders are more nervous than late last week:

While Friday’s modest gains in US equities were driven by a glimmer of hope that leaders are getting closer, this seems to have waned over the weekend.

House speaker John Boehner was quoted as saying he wouldn’t pass a bill to increase the US debt ceiling without addressing longer-term spending and budget challenges. This has really rattled markets and is likely to result in further near-term weakness for global equities.

Not much on the economic calendar today, although we do get the latest eurozone reading of investor confidence at 9.30am BST.

In the UK, the row over the Royal Mail privatisation continues, with critics warning that it’s being sold off too cheaply.

While in Greece, there were reports on Saturday that Athens is considering swapping some bailout loans for new 50-year bonds, as part of a third aid package.

Reuters had the story: Greece mulls swapping bailout loans with 50-year bond issue: source

I’ll be tracking all the action through the day….

Updated

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