Graeme Wearden

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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Live coverage of the latest GDP data, showing that the UK economy is, at long last, larger than in 2008 as it grew by 0.8% in April-June quarter. But on a per capita basis, GDP is still below the peak. Service sector surged, while construction shrank…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “UK economy finally above pre-crisis peak, as GDP rises by 0.8% in Q2 – business live” was written by Graeme Wearden, for theguardian.com on Friday 25th July 2014 12.05 UTC

The first quarter of 2008 was also the time in which Northern Rock, stricken by the credit crunch, was formally nationalised by the Labour government.

Northern Rock was later sold to Virgin Money. And today, they’ve announced they are creating 200 new jobs this year, including 120 in the North East.

The announcement coincides with George Osborne’s trip to Newcastle today.

Updated

Here’s a video clip of George Osborne explaining how Britain hasn’t completed the task of recovering from the Great Recession.

Read the news story here

Rather than trudging back to 9.30am, new readers might prefer to read our news story on today’s growth figures:

GDP surpasses pre-recession high as economic growth hits 0.8%

Larry Elliott: Chancellor is right not to be smug

Our economics editor, Larry Elliott, says the chancellor is wise to resist crowing today (as I flagged up earlier, George Osborne tweeted that there’s still “a long way to go” to complete the recovery).

Larry writes:

For one thing, this has been the mother and father of a recession and it has taken far longer than Osborne expected for the economy to respond to the Bank of England’s cheap money medicine.

There have been four deep downturns since the second world war; two presided over by Labour governments, two by Conservative. After the first oil shock in the mid-1970s, it took 12 quarters for the economy to return finally to its pre-recession level of output; after the recession in Margaret Thatcher’s first term it took 16 quarters; after the recession following the Lawson boom of the late 1980s its took 10 quarters. This time it has taken 25 quarters.

The second reason it makes sense for Osborne not to crow too much is that in terms of output per head of population, the downturn is still not over. The population has risen since the economy went into recession in early 2008 and at the current rate it will be 2017 or 2018 before the losses in per capita GDP are made up.

More here: George Osborne is right not to be smug over GDP numbers

Updated

Unions are flagging up up that most people are not feeling the recovery in their pocket:

Wage growth, or rather the lack of it, is one of the clearest signs that Britain’s recovery isn’t feeding through to the workers.

Pay rises have been lagging behind inflation since the crisis began, and hit their lowest level since 2001 in the three months to May (at just +0.7%).

Today’s GDP report is only the first stab at assessing the UK economy’s performance in the second quarter of 2014.

It doesn’t actually contain any data from June at all — the Office for National Statistics just estimates how the various sectors performed, based on history and the data from April and May.

John Bulford, economic advisor to the EY ITEM Club, reckons the 0.8% growth reading could be revised up next month:

The disparity between official figures, which show manufacturing output growing by just 0.2% and construction contracting by 0.5%, and business survey data, which show both sectors roaring ahead, is glaring. With that in mind, it would not be a surprise to see the Q2 figures revised up in the next release in mid-August.”

Guess who had another ‘helpful suggestion’….

Updated

Ben Chu has pulled together another great chart, showing how Britain’s GDP per capita (economic size divided by the total population) has also lagged most of the G7 group of advanced economies since 2008.

Updated

Chart: How Britain lagged the G7 since 2008

Italy is the only member of the G7 to have recorded slower growth than the UK since the first quarter of 2008

That was the time when the credit crunch was transforming into the biggest financial crisis to grip the world since the Great Depression.

Ben Chu of the Independent has helpfully tweeted this chart to show it:

At which point, the Conservative team at the Treasury suggested he might like to rescale it to 2010 (when the coalition took power).

Better, but still not top of the class…

Guy Ellison at Investec Wealth & Investment, says Britain’s recovery has been “a long slog”:

The UK is the second to last member of the G7 group of economies to reach the milestone and took much longer to rebound than in past recessions.

Geraint Johnes, director at Lancaster University’s Work Foundation, has rubbished the notion that today’s growth figures are a triumph for George Osborne’s austerity programme.

After all, the chancellor did (sensibly) drop the idea of eliminating the deficit in this parliament after it became clear that he was spiralling off course.

Johnes says:

“What do the figures say about the effectiveness of austerity and the management of the economy? The Chancellor’s actions trump his rhetoric. Austerity was effectively abandoned a couple of years ago, and the economy has flourished – albeit in patches – since.

And next year’s growth is unlikely to match the “rather remarkable results” being achieved at present, Johnes adds.

Updated

Summary

Rob Wood, economist at Berenberg, agrees that growth was “not balanced this quarter”:

The service sector (+1.0%) was strong while manufacturing (+0.2%) and construction (-0.5%) were weak. The longer the recovery remains unbalanced the less sustainable it may seem to aim for growth continuing around these rates.

That being said, manufacturing and construction suffered from an usually weak May and could bounce back strongly in June and through Q3

Manufacturing data from other European countries was also weak in May, suggesting the global economy had a hiccup.

A lot of people are hammering home the fact that the UK’s recovery has been the slowest in living memory.

This tweet from RBS shows the tortoise-like nature of the rebound:

And the FT explains just how badly it compares it to previous recessions over the last 100 years:

Ed Balls: GDP per head won’t recover till 2017

Better late than never, George.

That broadly sums up Ed Balls’ response to the GDP data, who points out that America’s economy hit its pre-crisis peak back in 2011.

The shadow chancellor says:

“At long last our economy is back to the size it was before the global banking crisis – three years after the US reached the same point.

“But with GDP per head not set to recover for three more years and most people still seeing their living standards squeezed this is no time for complacent claims that the economy is fixed.”

Balls adds that Labour measures, such as more free childcare and a 10p starting rate of tax, will make the recovery fairer. More here.

Jeremy Cook, chief economist at currency company World First, says the recovery is “engendered, sustainable and flourishing”.

“Once again, it was services that drove the economy onwards, rising by 1%. Construction slipped back in Q2, falling by 0.5% following a strong Q1 helped by home building and repair efforts to flooded properties in the west country.

“Industrial production rose 0.4%. The recession prompted a renewal of the phrase “Keep Calm and Carry On” and all in the UK will be hoping that this expansion does just that.”

 

Simon Baptist, of the Economist Intelligence Unit, points out that the recovery has been “notable for its extremely slow pace”:

Austerity in this parliament has been a drag on growth.

Markets needed to see a long term plan to big ticket items like pensions, healthcare and welfare spending; the government has done some of this for which it deserves credit, but growth now is in spite of austerity not because of it.

GDP reaction starts here

Ben Brettell, senior economist at Hargreaves Lansdown, warns that the UK economy “isn’t as strong as it looks”.

He also points out that GDP per person is still lagging (check out this chart)

While it has surpassed its pre-crisis peak in absolute terms, a larger population means GDP per capita is around 6% lower. The economy has been growing by adding jobs, but there is an underlying issue with productivity, and this is why we are not seeing any meaningful increase in wages.

Despite another upgraded growth forecast from the IMF I believe significant challenges lie ahead.

Don’t forget, GDP per capita is still below 2008 peak

I flagged this up earlier, but it really can’t be repeated too many times:

Britain’s GDP per person is nowhere near the level it reached before the recession.

The ONS hasn’t issued a new estimate today but, based on earlier data, GDP per capita is probably at least 5% smaller than in 2008.

Updated

The Liberal Democrats want their share of the credit, declaring that they have “cleared up Labour’s economic mess”.

Lib Dem Treasury Minister Danny Alexander says Britain has passed a major milestone today.

“The main reason that we stepped forward to form the coalition was to sort out Labour’s economic mess and rebuild a stronger economy and a fairer society for the future.

“By forming the coalition we gave the country a long term economic recovery plan based on Liberal Democrat values and policies and the stability to see it through.”

George Osborne: we’ve got a long way to go

Chancellor George Osborne is touring the North of England today – designed to show that the government takes regional regeneration seriously.

He’s tweeting from Newcastle:

Britain’s manufacturing sector didn’t enjoy a blowout quarter — its activity expanded by just 0.2% in the April-June quarter, down from 1.5% in January-March.

The key chart: GDP finally over pre-crisis peak

And here’s confirmation that the 0.8% growth in the last quarter was almost totally due to the service sector (which makes up around three-quarters of the economy)

Britain’s agriculture sector also shrank during the quarter, by 0.2%.

On an annual basis, the UK economy is 3.1% bigger than a year ago.

The construction sector contracted during the quarter – with its output shrinking by 0.5%.

Britain’s industrial sector grew by just 0.4% in the quarter, a slowdown compared to the 0.7% in Q1.

Britain’s service sector continues to drive the recovery.

It expanded by 1.0% between April and June, which is the strongest growth since the third quarter of 2012.

The Office for National Statistics confirms that the UK economy is now 0.2% larger than at the previous peak, in the first three months of 2008.

UK economy grew by 0.8% in second quarter of 2014

Here we go! The UK economy grew by 0.8% in the second quarter of this year.

That’s means Britain’s GDP is finally above the previous peak set in 2008.

Lots more detail and reaction to follow…

Ed Balls has rather pre-empted today’s growth figures, in an article in today’s Guardian.

In it, the shadow chancellor argues that there’s no cause for complacent celebrations, just because GDP has reached its pre-crisis levels (assuming it does….)

Not only is it two years later than the chancellor’s original plan said, and three years after the US reached the same point, it’s also the case that GDP per head won’t recover to where it was for around another three years – in other words, a lost decade for living standards.

Conservative complacency won’t help working people

Just over 20 minutes to wait until we learn how fast the UK economy grew in the second quarter of 2014.

Paul Hollingsworth of Capital Economics says it will be “another milestone for the recovery”, if GDP comes in at +0.8% as expected, 0.2% above the 2008 previous peak.

GDP per capita still lagging behind

There’s a very important reason to be cautious about today’s growth numbers, which explains why many people don’t feel the benefits of the recovery.

GDP per capita (ie, the amount of economic output divided by the number of people in Britain) is still more than 5% below the pre-crisis peak.

As the ONS said this month, “GDP per head has recovered relatively slowly since 2009″, and was 5.6%. This chart confirms it:

Tax campaigner Richard Murphy comments:

And that means almost everyone in this country is still worse off than they were in 2008. That’s nothing for the government to celebrate.

Lloyds close to Libor deal

RBS isn’t the only bank tackling “conduct and litigation issues”, of course.

Its UK rival, Lloyds Banking Group, has confirmed this morning that it is close to reaching a settlement over its role in Libor-rigging.

This is the scandal in which traders allegedly conspired to fix benchmark interest rates that underpin many financial markets. Lloyds is expected to pay a fine of £200-£300m.

Updated

Today’s GDP figures should also show that the UK economy has grown for the last six quarters — the longest sustained run of rising output since 2008.

RBS shares surge 12% after rushing out better-than-expected results

Royal Bank of Scotland has surprised the City by rushing out its results a week early, in the latest sign that conditions are improving in the UK economy.

RBS, which was rescued by the taxpayer after the great recession struck, has reported an unexpected rise in pre-tax profits, thanks to a fall in bad loans and a general improvement in economic conditions.

Shares surged by over 12% when trading began in London, even though CEO Ross McEwan cautioned that it still faces a number of “conduct and litigation issues”.

Here’s our full story:

RBS reports largest profits since bailout as share price soars

To hit its pre-crisis peak, UK GDP must have risen by at least 0.6% in the last quarter, I reckon.

Most economic data from April, May and June has suggested that growth remained quite strong, which is why economists expect GDP to have risen by 0.8% or 0.9%.

The slowest recovery since at least 1920

It’s wise to be cautious when economists talk about X or Y being the best or worst ‘on record’.

Reliable statistics don’t go back terribly far — for example, the central bankers faced with the Great Depression were hampered by limited knowledge about how their economies were faring*.

But it’s clear that this UK recovery has been the slowest in at least 100 years.

This graph from the NEISR thinktank (which includes their estimate for today’s GDP data) compares the last six recessions, going back to 1920.

* – the excellent Lords of Finance explains this well.

UK growth figures to show state of the recovery

Good morning.

After the longest downturn in recent UK economic history, has Britain’s economy finally returned to the levels before the 2008 financial crisis?

Economists think so, and we’ll find out for sure at 9.30am this morning when the Office for National Statistics issues its first estimate of UK growth for the second quarter of 2014.

The ONS is expected to report that GDP expanded by 0.8% or 0.9% between April and June. That would match, or exceed, the growth seen in the first three months of this year, showing that the UK recovery continues to outpace other advanced economies.

And with an election just 10 months away, the figures are eagerly awaited in both Westminster and the City.

Just yesterday, the International Monetary Fund upgraded its forecast for UK growth again – it now expects GDP to rise by a punchy 3.2% this year. Good news for George Osborne.

IMF predicts Britain’s GDP growth rate will surge to 3.2% by year end

But critics of the chancellor argue that Britain is enjoying another of those consumer-driven recoveries that have caused such trouble in the past.

So we’ll be scrutinising today’s data for evidence of whether the economy is really rebalancing, or not.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

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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Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Just 148,000 new jobs created in US last month, while the unemployment rate falls to 7.2%. An average of just 143, 000 new hires were made each month between July and September, compared to 209,000 p/m at the end of 2012. Bond prices jump, dollar drops…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Tapering off the table as US jobs data disappoints – live” was written by Graeme Wearden, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 22nd October 2013 14.51 UTC

The Royal Mail flotation has taken another twist today, with the news that a leading activist hedge fund has amassed a 5% stake.

A regulatory filing from Royal Mail this afternoon showed that The Children’s Investment Fund now owns more than 58 million of the Royal Mail’s 1bn shares, giving it a 5.8% stake (thus triggering the announcement).

This appears to make TCI the biggest private shareholder (the government was left with more than 30% of the stock after the float.)

TCI, based in London, is well-known for taking stakes in companies and agitating for change, so Royal Mail’s management could face a rough ride.

It was founded a decade ago by manager and philanthropist Chris Hohn, who co-founded the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) charity with his wife to help under-privileged children in the developing world.

Business secretary Vince Cable had promised that responsible, long-term investors would be favoured in the allocation process. It’s not clear how many shares TCI received in the float, and how many it has mopped up since.

Shares in Royal Mail have dropped today, down 1% at present to 492p. They floated at 330p.

Updated

Co-op Group chief stepping down

The Co-operative Group’s chairman, Len Wardle, is to step down, as the turmoil surrounding the organisation continues to swirl.

Co-op Group just announced that Wardle will make his decision official at the next half-yearly meeting of members on 2 November, and depart in May 2014. The news comes a day after US hedge funds forced it to surrender control of its Bank yesterday. 

In a statement, Wardle said he should be replaced by an independent chairman.

On 2 November I intend to give the membership my notice that I will relinquish my Chairmanship in May 2014. In August this year, I informed the Board that it was my intention to step down at the end of my term of office whilst also making clear that I wanted to drive hard the reforms to modernise the Group. During the last year, we have appointed Euan Sutherland as Group CEO and started the changes that I believe will make The Co-operative Group stronger than ever.
The Co-operative is at its best when it is reforming and I want this change to continue. I want to persuade our members that The Co-operative Group should now look to an independent chair to lead the business, working side-by-side with the members who represent the movement.
I am immensely proud to have led the Group and to have chaired The Co-operative over the last six years.

The Group’s CEO, Euan Sutherland, commented:

Firstly, I want to thank Len for his leadership and commitment to The Co-operative over the last six years. Under his guidance we have made significant progress on beginning the reform which we will announce as planned in May 2014. I look forward to working with colleagues and members to ensure that we return the business to growth over the coming years.

As I covered extensively this morning, Sutherland’s predecessor was very critical of the Co-op Group’s structure while being quizzed by MPs today. Peter Marks said partly blamed the problems at Co-op Bank on the fact the organisation has a toe in too many areas.

Wall Street has opened a little higher on the back of the US jobs data, with the Dow Jones up 28 points, or 0.17%, in early trading. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq are also gaining a little.

Back to the UK briefly — the bosses of Britain’s largest energy firms are being hauled before MPs to explain the recent rash of price hikes, after tariffs jumped by upwards of 8%.

Big six energy firms to face MPs following price hikes

Wall Street correspondent Dominic Rushe flags up one cheerful note — the drop in the US jobless rate, to 7.2%, was caused by more people getting jobs rather than simply dropping out of the labour market altogether.

Dom writes:

September’s fall appears to be driven by employment growth, one bright spark in an otherwise lacklustre report. The largest job gains were in construction, wholesale trade, and transportation and warehousing.

Employers have now added an average of 185,000 positions each month over the last year as of September, but gains have slowed in recent months. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) has remained high and was little changed in September at 4.1 million. These individuals accounted for 36.9% of the unemployed. The unemployment rates for teenagers (21.4%), black people (12.9%) and Hispanics (9%) also remained high and unchanged.

Stock markets in Europe have pushed higher on the back of the disappointing jobs data from America.

The FTSE 100 is up 30 points at 6684, a gain of 0.46%, having hit the highest intraday level since the start of August.

Germany’s DAX is up another 0.8% and heading for yet another record high.

The prospect of yet more Fed stimulus is getting traders drooling, even though the real message from today’s Non-Farm Payroll is that the US labour market is weak.

Barclays also reckons the Fed will keep stimulating for several more months…

Stock markets will climb higher by Christmas as the Federal Reserve keeps pumping money into the US economy, predicts Joe Rundle, head of trading at ETX Capital.

Rundle reckons the Fed might not start tapering its bond buying programme until the middle of next year:

Jobs generation remains weak, other facets of the US economy are also suffering from weakness – yesterday’s weaker existing home sales report for example and more importantly, fiscal uncertainty in the US remains. Lawmakers will have to re-address the debt limit and funding for the Treasury early next year; this makes the Fed’s job much harder in terms of an exit plan for QE.

At the same time, if the trigger is not pulled by current head Ben Bernanke before he leaves at the end of 2013, it will be the duty of the incoming Fed President who could be Janet Yellen – an endorser of loose monetary policies [low interest rates and accommodative easing tools], otherwise known as a dove in the market.

…Most likely it will be mid-2014 or late before we see the first tapering shot fired. Risk assets are to remain well supported through to year-end; S&P500 to hit 1810 by end of 2013, FTSE100 to hit 6850.

This graph also shows how job creation in America remains subdued:

The weak US jobs report shows that the Federal Reserve was quite right last month, when it decided not to start to ‘taper’ (or slow) its programme of buying $85bn of government bonds and mortgage debt.

Economist Justin Wolfers flags up that US job creation is faltering – an average of just 143, 000 new hires were made each month between July and September, compared to 209,000 per month at the end of 2012.

David Nicholls, alliance manager at UKForex, agrees that the US labour markets looks too weak for the Fed to start tapering its bond-purchase scheme:

Today’s non-farm payroll data (148K vs 182K expected) is another nail in the coffin for tapering anytime this year.

The numbers just aren’t supporting an immediate move by the Fed, and the dollar is softening further as a result.

It’s also difficult to see that October’s data is going to be any more positive given the recent government shut down. We expect data to continue to support a delayed tapering decision this year – and that will weigh heavily on the US dollar.

Our first take on the Non-Farm Payroll is here:

The US unemployment rate remained at the lowest level since 2008 in September, according to figures released on Tuesday that were delayed by the federal government shutdown.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate remained “little changed” at 7.2%, with the economy adding 148,000 jobs. But the US economic recovery remains fragile, with employers adding jobs at a slower rate than the previous month.

US jobless rate ‘little changed’ at 7.2% as recovery stays on sluggish pace

Bonds jump, dollar slides after Non-Farm Payroll

The price of US Treasury bills is jumping on the news that the US jobs market was weaker than expected in September. This has driven down the interest rate (yield) on 10-year bonds to a three month low.

The dollar also took an immediate dive, pushing the pound up almost half a cent to $1.6183.

That backs up the idea that the Federal Reserve won’t start tapering its QE programme for some months….

The early reaction from analysts and economists is that September’s non-farm payroll report means the Fed will keep stimulating the US economy at its current rate until 2014.

An increase of just 148,000 new jobs is quite a miss compared to the consensus of 180,000 (some bullish analysts expected to see a >200,000 reading).

Experts on Bloomberg TV are agreed that this is a bad jobs report, particularly in the private sector where just 126,000 new jobs were created in September.

This is not what the Federal Reserve is looking to see before it starts to ease its $85bn/month quantitative easing programme, one suggests.

The US labour force participation rate is unchanged, at 63.2%.

Previous US unemployment data has been revised, too.

The Bureau of Labour Statistics says 193,000 new jobs were created in August, up from 169,000 new jobs.

But July’s data has been downgraded, to 89,000 new jobs from 104,000.

Non-Farm released

Breaking: 148,000 new jobs were created in America last month. That’s less than expected.

The jobless rate is down, though, from 7.3% to 7.2%.

City forecasts for non-farm payroll vary considerably, as ever – the consensus is that 180,000 new jobs were created in America last month, leaving the jobless rate unchanged at 7.3%.

Updated

US jobs data imminent

Right, time for the next order of business – the delayed US jobs data.

The Non-Farm payroll for September, showing how many new jobs were created in America last month, is due out any moment (8.30am New York, or 1.30pm BST)

It’s been delayed by more than two weeks by the US government shutdown, and economists are eager to learn how the labour market was performing before Capitol Hill plunged the country into uncertainty in that row over the US budget and the debt ceiling…..

Summary

That really was quite a session between Peter Marks and the Treasury committee over Co-op’s lurch into crisis (highlights start here).

The key points, I think, are:

His warning that the Co-operative Group was, and is, spread too thinly, which helped to drive Co-op Bank into such difficulties. That is going to fuel fears over the mutual’s future, now two US hedge funds have taken control of the Bank via its refinancing.

The admission that Co-op should never have merged its financial service arm with Britannia Building Society. If he had a crystal ball, he’d not have done it. (why don’t board rooms include crystal balls as standard fittings?)…

…and the insistence that the ill-fated deal to buy hundreds of Lloyds branches was not a bad decision.

Marks’ refusal to take full personal responsibility. He tried to pin the blame for the Co-op Bank/Britannia merger on the two chief executives. And while he conceded being the “driving force” behind the Lloyds bid, he said former Co-op Bank CEO Neville Richardson had played the main role.

• The declaration that a hedge fund can’t be ethical will worry any Co-op Bank customer who is worrying about its future. As Marks put it:

Hedge funds exist to maximise profits…to be ethical, you can’t do that.

This raises the issue of whether Co-op Bank should continue to use the co-operative title, now it’s under the control of two US hedge funds. As Marks said “it’s not a Co-op” any more.

And Marks’s comments on why it’s so hard for a mutual bank to compete also suggest the era is over.

• We still don’t know exactly how the Co-op was allowed to continue with the Lloyds branch bid until Spring 2013, despite concerns over its capital position. Marks blamed the PRA regulators for ‘moving the goalposts’ and forcing the Co-op to seek more capital.

• MPs didn’t look convinced. The Treasury committee seemed sceptical on occasions, and incredulous on others, as Marks tried to avoid taking blame. As Brooks Newmark put it: “It says it on the tin. You were the leader” .

And Andrew Tyrie appeared most unimpressed at the sight of another executive explained how decisions were taken collectively. Where’s the individual accountability?…

Updated

After more than two hours of grilling, Andrew Tyrie releases Peter Marks from the Thatcher Room.

It’s not been an easy morning for you, or anyone else, Tyrie remarks. But a lot of people have lost money out there, not just bond holders, so it’s important that the session took place.

Any final words?

Marks, who can’t have enjoyed the session one little bit (the accusation of selective amnesia was probably the low point), says that he’s “spent his life working for the Co-op”. What has happened is a tragedy for the company, customers, and him personally.

However, despite everything, Marks believes the Co-operative Group (whose history dates back to the Rochdale pioneers of the 19th century), still has “a good future”.

Marks defends his record

Andrew Tyrie is returning to the question of Peter Marks’s own role in the Co-op’s failures. Didn’t you make “very big mistakes”?

Marks tries to shimmy the question. Taking over Britannia was indeed a mistake, but Project Verde (the aborted bid for Lloyds’ branches) wasn’t. That deal would have given the Bank the market share it needed, and fixed many of the regulator’s worries.

He also insists that the Verde project had everyone’s support , this wasn’t Peter Marks going “gung ho”.

He also defends another scheme, Project Unity, which was designed to allow Co-op Group to sell its products across its various operations.

John Thurso MP is asking if “mutuals” have a future – was the Co-op’s Bank’s mutual status responsible for its problems, or was it a straightforward case of bad management?

Peter Marks doesn’t believe it’s mutual status was the cause, except it couldn’t raise capital as easily as a PLC (which could tap the equity markets for funds).

So is the model viable, Thurso asks?

Marks: it’s very hard for a mutual to be a “real, serious competitor” in the UK banking market, which he dubs a “high volume, low margin business”, subject to costly regulation and high capital reserve requirements.

Updated

Brooks Newmark becomes the latest MP to question Peter Marks, and to question his claim that he is not responsible for the blunders that caused Co-op’s present problems.

He dismisses Marks argument that he was only a non-executive director of Co-op Bank at the time of the Britannia merger, saying he cannot “absolve responsibility” for mistakes.

Newmark accuses Marks of being in “complete denial”:

Newmark is also homing in on KPMG, who advised Co-op on both the Lloyds branch deal and the takeover of Britannia building society (details here). Did they botch the job and give ‘bad advice’?

Marks argues that the advice was “right at the time”, and again cites Britain’s economic problems (an excuse which the committee don’t appear impressed with)

Marks suggests the Co-op should get some credit for walking away from the deal to buy hundreds of branches of Lloyds.

We’re back on the issue of Co-op’s structure, with Peter Marks repeating his earlier warning that the Group is spread over too many areas – from supermarkets to travel via funerals and legal services.

If I failed at anything, it was not getting the Group board to heed my warnings, Marks says.

Andrew Tyrie pounces. If we look for the documentary evidence of these warnings, will we find it?

Probably not, Marks concedes.

No evidence of “your devastating critique”?

Marks suggests not, but is sure his former colleagues will remember….

Co-op ex boss: Hedge funds can’t be ethical

Can a hedge fund be ethical, asks Pat McFaddon MP, pointing to the fact that two US hedge funds now have control of Co-op Bank.

“No,” Peter Marks replies. “Hedge funds exist to maximise profits…to be ethical, you can’t do that”.

In that case, McFaddon asks, should it really be called the Co-op Bank if it’s not the Co-op?

Marks says it’s difficult for him to answer that, but concedes the point.

Peter Marks blames the City regulators for ‘moving the goalposts’ on capital reserves, triggering the £1.5bn capital shortfall at the Bank.

He also insists that the Co-operative Group took seriously the warnings from Andrew Bailey, the Bank of England’s top regulator, about capital reserves and risk management.

Asked about who took the decision to abandon the bid for Lloyds branches, Marks calls it a “collective decision”

Of the Group or the Bank?

Both, Marks replies.

Updated

Jesse Norman MP asks Marks if he could face criminal charges for acting as a ‘shadow executive chairman’.

Why? Because Marks says he was a driving force behind the failed bid for Lloyds branches despite not being the Co-op Bank CEO.

Marks says not, insisting the Co-op Group board unanimously voted to look at this deal, as did the board of the Bank.

Andrew Tyrie, the highly respected chairman of the Treasury committee, is asking a lot of follow-up questions. Not a good sign….

Peter Marks: I’m ‘feeling very sad’

Ruffley then reads out details of an interview given by Marks when he stepped down from the Group this year, about how he had risen from humble roots to the top. How does he feel today?

Feeling very sad.

Now it’s David Ruffley MP’s turn.

He warns Peter Marks that his “selective amnesia” had better stop, and demands better answers about when the former Group boss became aware of Lloyds Banking Group’s concerns about its capital weakness

Were there really no alarm bells ringing a year ago?

Marks insists that it only became clear at the start of this year that there was a capital shortfall (which led to the £1.5bn capital raising exercise, in which Co-op Group will only hold 30% of its Bank).

Updated

Mark BarnierGarnier MP tells Peter Marks that Lloyds had become aware a year ago that the Co-op Bank was undercapitalised. When did he learn this?

Marks says can’t remember the details of discussions over capital shortfalls.

Barnier is quite surprised. Surely you’d remember when you first learned that your big deal started to crash? 

Marks replies that the deal wasn’t crashing at that stage.

Updated

Marks also denies shirking responsibility for Co-op Bank’s woes, saying he was absolutely prepared to take the blame for other deals that he was fully involved in. The Lloyds bank branch deal doesn’t fall into this area, he claims.

Andrew Tyrie questions whether ‘tragedy’ is the right term to use for Co-op’ Banks woes — surely a tragedy is something unavoidable. This mess was quite avoidable.

Marks disputes this, and agrees with the suggestion that the Co-op Bank was an “innocent victim” of the financial crisis.

Marks repeats that the Co-op Bank’s slide into the hands of two US hedge funds is a “tragedy”, but claims it could be a good thing for the wider Group.

It will force the Co-operative Group to focus on key areas and not stretch its capital, he suggests, harking back to his earlier warning that the organisation is spread too thinly.

Labour MP John Mann savages Peter Marks over the situation at Co-op Bank today, accusing Peter Marks and colleagues of being “totally out of your depth when trying to grow the Co-op so rapidly.”

That’s why two US hedge funds are taking control of the Co-op, right?

Marks replies that those two funds are only taking majority control of Co-op Bank, not the wider Group.

Marks says he helped to guide the Group through the “worst recession in living memory”.

Did you make disastrous errors, John Mann inquires:

Marks say that it’s harsh to use the word disastrous, but concedes there were certainly errors.

Treasury committee chairman Andrew Tyrie is digging down into the details of who was actually taking the decisions that led to Co-op Bank’s slide into trouble.

Marks isn’t taking individual responsibility for the failed bid for Lloyd’s branches, saying that Neville Richardson (the Co-op’s Bank’s former) boss took most of the key decisions.

Tyrie says it looks like another example of “everyone collectively moving forward together, and no-one actually running it”.

He asks Marks if he’s read the Banking Standards Commission’s report into the sector, and Marks concedes that he hasn’t read it thoroughly.

What’s the Commission’s key recommendation?

Marks doesn’t know.

It’s that there should be individual responsibility for key decisions, Tyrie replies,.

Marks agrees that he was the ‘driving force’ behind Co-op’s bid for the Lloyds branches, calling it a “great opportunity” to deliver the scale that Bank needed.

But wasn’t it a catastrophic misjudgement, asks Jesse Norman MP ?

No, Marks says, arguing that Co-op Bank’s fundamental problem was a lack of capital. This deal would have brought much-needed capital in.

Updated

Onto the details of Co-op’s Bank’s failed bid for the branches being spun off by Lloyds (known as Project Verde)

Was Peter Marks aware of political interference with the Verde process? “Not that I’m aware of,” he replies.

Peter Marks seems reluctant to take too much blame for the Co-op Bank’s troubles, pointing out that he wasn’t personally regulated by the Financial Services Authority to run a bank.

He’s also pinned responsibility for the Britannia merger on Neville Richardson, Britannia’s chief executive at the time who became head of Co-op Bank, and former Co-operative Financial Services boss David Anderson:

The Treasury committee are trying to get a handle on exactly who to blame for Co-op’s woes.

Marks argues that ”we all have to take some degree of responsibility, including me”.

He has concedes that Co-op Bank’s “ethical reputation has been damaged” by the PPI scandal, in which it is paying out over £200m in compensation.

Co-op Bank was forced into trouble by its take-over of the Britannia Building Society in 2009, Marks agrees. With hindsight, he wouldn’t do it again.

Former Co-op chief Peter Marks went on to warn that the Co-operative Group is spread too thinly.

Marks, who stepped down in May 2013, is being asked by Andrew Tyrie about structural problems at the Group. He says:

I think there are areas of governance within the Co-operative that absolutely need to change.

So why didn’t you change then, Tyrie inquires.

Marks replied that he wasn’t on the board of the Group.

He than warns that the group, which runs supermarkets, pharmaceutical branches, funeral services, insurance and banks, is simply involved in too many different operations.

It was, and still is, stretching its capital over too many businesses, Marks added.

Updated

Ex-Co-op boss: Bank’s problems are tragic

Over in Westminster, MPs on the Treasury committee are starting to quiz Peter Marks, the former chief executive of the Co-operative Group.

Marks is facing questions over the Co-op’s ill-fated attempt to buy hundreds of bank branches from Lloyds. That bid was scuppered by the discovery of a capital shortfall in Co-op Bank, which eventually led yesterday to the Group losing majority control of its Bank after a battle with US hedge funds.

My colleague Jill Treanor is there, and reports:

The session is being streamed live here - although it has been a little flakey…

UK public finances, the key charts

This chart, from today’s UK public finances, shows how tax receipts rose 7% year-on-year in September, after a weaker August:

And this graph shows how cumulative borrowing since April is lower than a year ago:

UK public finances show improvement

Just in: the UK borrowed less than expected in September, thanks to an increase in tax revenues.

Britain’s Public Sector Net Borrowing, excluding the cost of financial interventions, came in at £11.072bn, beating forecasts of £11.2bn and better than last year’s £12.067bn.

The Office for National Statistics reported that central government accrued current receipts rose to £44.8bn, up £2.9 billion or 7.0% compared with September 2012.

The ONS explains, though that the monthly data needs treating with caution:

The higher receipts in September 2013 (compared with September 2012) came from taxes on production and taxes on income and wealth. However, the relatively large increases seen in taxes on income and wealth have been affected by monthly volatility. These are related to timing effects which offset the falls seen in August.

The ONS also reported that Britain’s ‘underlying’ Public Sector Net Borrowing since the start of April has now reached £56.7bn, 9.4% lower than a year ago.

By other measures, though, borrowing is actually up this year (due to various one-off factors like putting the Royal Mail pension fund onto the public books last year)

I’ll post some charts now….

Charlie Bean, one of the Bank of England’s deputy governors, has urged Europe to crack on and implement banking reform.

In a wide-ranging speech to the Society of Business Economists, Bean said it was important that Europe used the window created by Mario Draghi, who he credited with saving the euro from break-up.

Bean said:

The euro area is no longer in existential crisis, in part as a result of the willingness of the European Central Bank (ECB) to take redenomination risk off the table through its Outright Monetary Transactions programme.

The countries of the euro-area periphery have also made progress in restoring
competitiveness and rebalancing the composition of demand, though there is still quite a way to go. Member states are working towards the creation of a functional banking union, which has the potential to break the link between sovereigns and banks.

And in preparation for becoming the euro-area banking supervisor, the ECB is planning a rigorous review of the quality of banks’ assets, to be followed by a set of stress tests and, if necessary, recapitalisation. Provided these carry credibility with the market, this could do much to restore confidence in the euro-area banking system.

Bean also said the UK recovery was ‘gaining traction’ (we get new GDP data on Friday), and also defended the BoE’s forward guidance (which means interest rates shouldn’t rise until the labour market improves).

Over in Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker’s long grip on power could finally be slipping.

Although Juncker’s party won the most support in Sunday’s elections, it lost three seats – dropping to just 23 of the 60 seats in parliament.

Opposition parties are beginning coalition talks, as Reuters reports this morning:

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker was facing the end of a 19-year run in power on Tuesday after the centre-right Democratic Party (DP) said it would begin coalition talks with would-be partners, the Socialists and the Greens.

Juncker’s Christian Social People’s Party (CSV) has led governments in the tiny state between France, Germany and Belgium for all but five years since World War Two, but lost three seats in an election on Sunday to leave it with just 23 in the 60-seat parliament.

That was the party’s worst showing since 1999. The Democratic Party and the Socialists both won 13 seats and the Greens six.

“We will contact them to come together tomorrow to see if there is a possibility to work together in the coming five years,” DP leader Xavier Bettel told RTL television. “It’s a realistic option.”

Juncker was a familiar face in the dark days of the eurozone crisis, as leader of the Eurogroup of finance ministers (he stepped down at the end of 2012). Now, his position as Luxembourg’s PM could be at risk…. 

Heads-up. Greek MPs will vote today on whether to withdraw funding from parties whose members face serious criminal charges – the latest step in the clampdown against the extremist Golden Dawn group.

Kathimerini explains:

Greece’s conservative-led government and leftist opposition SYRIZA have reached a common position, with the leftist party confirming last week that it will vote in favor of the bill, which has been drafted by Interior Minister Yiannis Michelakis after extensive consultation with the Parliament’s opposition parties.

Last week MPs voted by an overwhelming majority to lift the immunity of six Golden Dawn MPs, opening the way for a broadening of a criminal investigation into the ultra-right party, which is the real target of the bill being voted on on Tuesday.

Economist Shaun Richards fears Ofgem’s clampdown on energy tariffs is too late.

Updated

Downbeat news from Lufthansa has sent the German airline’s shares down almost 4% this morning.

In an unscheduled update, Lufthansa warned that restructuring costs will wipe €200m off operating profits this year, with various ‘project’ costs costing another €100m. More here.

CEO Christoph Franz has been implementing a radical shake-up of the company, cutting thousands of jobs and shifting more traffic to its budget offering, Germanwings. Analysts had expected the company to deliver operating profits of around £917m — it now says it’ll be between €600m and €700m.

A pretty mixed start to European stock market trading, with the FTSE 100 creeping higher (up 0.1%) the German DAX flat, and the French CAC down 0.2%.

The excuse is that traders are waiting for those US jobs numbers at 1.30pm BST:

Mike van Dulken of  Accendo Markets agrees, saying:

 US jobs will be the driver for a break one way of the other. Or much ado about nothing?

Asian markets had also been mixed overnight, although Australia’s A&P/ASX 200 did gain another 0.4% to a new five-year high.

Ofgem hits ScottishPower with £8.5m penalty and tightens tariff rules

After taking quite a mauling in recent weeks over its handling of the energy market, watchdog Ofgem is showing its teeth in two ways this morning.

It has told Scottish Power to repay £8.5m to customers for breaking mis-selling rules, after finding that the agents who knocked on doors and ‘phoned households to suggest they change energy supplier had misled customers.

Ofgem said the penalty would “directly benefit vulnerable consumers and compensate consumers that were misled” by Scottish Power (which ended doorstep visits in 2011).

In a statement, senior partner Sarah Harrison declared:

Today’s announcement is a clear signal to energy suppliers of the consequences of breaching licence obligations and of the importance of taking action to put things right for consumers when they go wrong.

Ofgem has also announced that new rules on energy prices come into effect today, as a time when customers are reeling from large hikes in tariffs. Details are here.

The key points:

• it will prevent firms from raising the price of ‘fixed-term deals’ (sounds fair – the clue is in the name, after all).

• Firms also won’t be allowed to simply roll a customer over onto a new fixed-term contract when their existing one ends.

• “Simpler” tariffs will come in from December, with customers also getting “clearer information” in March 2014.

A case of better late than never? 

There’s also nothing here to prevent a company hitting consumers with the hefty price hikes seen in recent days.

As Ofgem boss Andrew Wright explains, the idea is to help customers ‘vote with their feet’, to keep the industry playing fair:

In an era of rising prices it is vital that competition works as effectively as possible.

Our reforms seek to give consumers the tools they need to find the best energy deal for them and to ensure that suppliers have to treat them fairly.

Updated

Oil price drops

The oil price has dropped again overnight, with a barrel of US crude dropping to $98.79 – its lowest level since early July.

US crude dropped through the $100 mark yesterday, as data showed an rise in oil inventory levels. Traders are also calculating that the economic damage cause by the US shutdown will mean less demand.

Could be good news for motorists, if it feeds through to the pumps…

Updated

Non-Farm Payroll, the wait is over….

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

Investors and economists are waiting with eager anticipation for America’s unemployment data, eighteen days late thanks to the disruption caused by the US government shutdown shutdown.

After a Beckettian wait, we finally find out at 1.30pm BST how many jobs were created across the US last month — a key measure of the health of the world’s largest economy at the start of autumn.

Forecasts for the Non-Farm Payroll vary widely (as ever). The consensus is that 180,000 new job were created last month — there could be some lively action if this prediction is way off beam.

Under normal circumstances, the jobs data would indicate if the Federal Reserve is close to turning down the tap on its $85bn/month stimulus package. But the disruption caused by America’s government shutdown has thrown that up into the air.

What else is afoot?

Well, UK public finances are released at 9.30am – showing how much Britain borrowed to balance the books in September.

While in Parliament from 10am, MPs will be questioning the former boss of The Co-operative Group, Peter Marks, a day after the company surrendered control of its Bank to its bondholders (front page news in today’s paper)

Eurozone-wise, we’ll be watching Greece (where the Troika of lenders return next week), Portugal (whose finance minister ruled out a second bailout yesterday), and Italy (where opposition to the 2014 budget was growing).

I’ll be tracking the main events through the day – let me know what I’ve missed!

Updated

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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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Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

IMF Chief Christine Lagarde says “vital to raise US debt ceiling”. The US Treasury Department also weighed in, warning of dire calamity. US services sector showed growth was slowing, with the PMI coming in at 54.4 in September, down from 58.6 in August…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Lagarde demands urgent action over US debt ceiling as markets get jittery – as it happened” was written by Graeme Wearden, for theguardian.com on Thursday 3rd October 2013 16.51 UTC

The end

The big story tonight remains the US government shutdown - which my US colleagues are live-blogging here. So here’s a brief summary to finish with.

• Christine Lagarde has piled pressure on America’s politicians to raise the US debt ceiling quickly. The IMF chief said it was “mission-critical” to avert the danger of a US default. The country’s Treasury Department also weighed in, warning of dire calamity.

• Fears over a possible US default hit shares on Wall Street. There were also signs of investors moving money out of short-term US debt, pushing up bond yields. Encouraging US jobs data was cancelled out by weaker service sector growth. Here’s what analysts are saying about the debt ceiling….

• Europe’s private sector has posted its biggest rise in activity in 27 months. Italian firms reported a stronger month, boosting hopes that the country is pulling out of recession. Retail sales also picked up.

• China’s service sector performed well in September too, pushing activity to a six-month high.

• In Greece, the head of the Golden Dawn party is being held in custody ahead of the criminal trial into the party, as the clampdown continues to raise fears over the country’s political stability. Another GD MP appeared in court, as the party raged against the decision to jail its leader.

• A survey of a Cyprus gas field found smaller reserves than hoped, but the government will still push on with exploiting it.

Back tomorrow, hopefully for a more lively day. Goodnight. GW 

An uninspiring day in Europe’s stock markets is over.

The FTSE 100 finished up 11 points at 6449, but the other main markets all lost ground. The French CAC shed 0.7%, the German DAX closed 0.37% lower, Spain’s IBEX is down 0.7% and the Italian FTSE MIB dropped 0.5%. No boost from today’s decent eurozone economic data, while the US debt ceiling deadline gets closer…..

Updated

The Japonica Partners investment fund, which has a big holding of Greek debt, has been holding a conference call for City analysts to explain why Greece’s bonds are actually much better quality than people realise.

Here’s a screengrab of Bloomberg’s news flashes:

FT Alphaville’s Joseph Cotterill is on the call, and flags up that Japonica was asked whether it’s planning to buy Greek state assets with its Greek government bonds. The idea wasn’t ruled out….

Wall Street falls

Those warnings over the US debt ceiling from Christine Lagarde, and from the US Treasury, come as shares fall on Wall Street today.

US traders pushed down the Dow Jones industrial average, as they watched Barack Obama lay into the Republicans in a speech in Rockville, Maryland (details in our US liveblog).

The Dow Jones industrial average is down 130 points, or 0.8%, with 28 of its 30 members losing ground.

It’s not all because of the deadlock on Capitol Hill. A monthly survey of the US services sector showed growth was slowing, with the PMI coming in at 54.4 in September, down from 58.6 in August (anything over 50 shows growth).

There are already fears that the shutdown will cost jobs and hit growth.

United Technologies, which supplies helicopters and jet engines to the U.S. military, has warned that if there’s no deal by Monday it might tell 2,000 workers to down tools. Bloomberg has the details.

My US colleague Tom McCarthy has launched a new liveblog tracking Day Three of the government shutdown:

Government shutdown enters third day after talks fail to break deadlock – live

It includes details of a report from the US Treasury Department which warns that there would be catastrophic consequences if America doesn’t raise its debt ceiling on time.

It certainly sounds scary:

A default would be unprecedented and has the potential to be catastrophic,” the Treasury reported.

“Credit markets could freeze, the value of the dollar could plummet, U.S. interest rates could skyrocket, the negative spillovers could reverberate around the world, and there might be a financial crisis and recession that could echo the events of 2008 or worse.

Surely they’ll get a debt ceiling deal in time, right? Surely….

Heads-up, Alexis Tsipras, head of Greece’s Syriza party, is giving a press conference with European Parliament president Martin Schulz.

It’s being streamed here.

The Golden Dawn clampdown has been raised. Schulz said there was “no place” for those with Nazi views in a democratic society while Tsipras welcomed the EP’s plans for a special session on “Golden Dawn and right-wing extremism”.

Tsipras also slammed the Greek bailout programme, saying: “One shouldn’t be taking new loans to pay off old ones,” according to AP’s Jurgen Baetz.

I don’t think he’s arguing against rolling over sovereign debt….

The IMF are tweeting highlights from the Lagarde speech, where she’s warning about the looming debt ceiling:

Lagarde: Mission critical to resolve US government crisis now

The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, urged America’s warring politicians to settle their differences as she warned that an escalation of the budget row would harm the entire global economy, our economics editor Larry Elliott writes:

Speaking ahead of the Fund’s annual meeting in Washington next week, Lagarde said it was “mission critical” that Democrats and Republicans raise the US debt ceiling before the October 17 deadline.

Financial markets have started to take fright at the prospect that America could go into technical default as a result of the impasse in Washington and the IMF’s managing director said the dispute was a fresh setback for a global economy that would take at least a decade to recover from the deep slump of 2008-09.

Lagarde said:

I have said many times before that the U.S. needs to “slow down and hurry up”—by that I mean less fiscal adjustment today and more tomorrow.

She added that the world’s biggest economy needed to put its finances in order, but favoured back-loaded measures to raise revenues and limit entitlement spending that did not jeopardise short-term growth.

Lagarde added:

In the midst of this fiscal challenge, the ongoing political uncertainty over the budget and the debt ceiling does not help. The government shutdown is bad enough, but failure to raise the debt ceiling would be far worse, and could very seriously damage not only the US economy, but the entire global economy.

So it is “mission-critical” that this be resolved as soon as possible.

We’ll have the full story online shortly

Some early snaps from Christine Lagarde’s speech, in which she also warns that America was too eager this year to cut spending and raise taxes:

03-Oct-2013 15:00 – IMF’S LAGARDE SAYS U.S. ECONOMIC GROWTH THIS YEAR WILL BE ‘TOO LOW,’ BELOW 2 PCT, DUE TO TOO MUCH FISCAL TIGHTENING

03-Oct-2013 15:00 – LAGARDE SAYS U.S. GROWTH WILL BE ABOUT 1 PERCENTAGE POINT HIGHER IN 2014 AS FISCAL STRAINS EASE – SPEECH TEXT

03-Oct-2013 15:00 – LAGARDE SAYS U.S. FAILURE TO RAISE DEBT CEILING COULD ‘VERY SERIOUSLY’ HURT U.S. AND GLOBAL ECONOMY, CRITICAL TO RESOLVE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE

03-Oct-2013 15:00 – LAGARDE SAYS MARKET TURBULENCE SINCE MAY OVER PERCEIVED END TO U.S. EASY MONEY POLICIES COULD REDUCE GDP IN MAJOR EMERGING MARKETS BY 0.5 TO 1 PCT

Christine Lagarde urges US politicians to end budget row

Breaking: Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, has urged politicians in Washington to act quickly to resolve the government shutdown before the global economy is hurt badly.

Speaking in Washington right now, Lagarde is warning that a failure to raise the debt ceiling could “very seriously hurt” the US and global economy.

It is critical to resolve the crisis soon, she said.

More to follow

Updated

The yield on America’s one-month debt has risen to the highest level in 10 months, suggesting investors are getting worried about the looming debt ceiling and selling bonds which mature at the end of October.

This has pushed the yield up to 0.129%, from just 0.028% a week ago. That’s still a very ‘safe’ level, of course, but it’s a sign that the US budget deadlock is starting to make traders more nervous, with the debt ceiling looming.

The cost of insuring US bonds against default is also up:

Updated

Some reaction to the Cyprus gas drilling results:

Updated

Cyprus gas results are in

Cyprus’s hopes of receiving a huge windfall from offshore reserves of natural gas received a knock today, after new drilling results found there is less recoverable gas at one field than hoped.

The Nicosia government announced the results of exploratory drilling off its coast a few minutes ago. Texas’s Noble Energy, which did the drilling in the Cypriot Aphrodite concession, also updated its shareholders.

And the news is that Noble Energy has estimated there is 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (or between 3.6trn and 6trn) to be recovered at that particular gas field south of the Mediterranean island. That’s a disappointment, as earlier drilling in 2011 indicated there was 7 trillion cubic feet (or between 5trn and 8trn).

The Cypriot government is still pushing on with its plans to exploit the reserves, though:

Cypriot energy minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis told reporters:

It’s important to state from the outset that, despite the lower quantities we announce today compared to those of 2011, the confirmed reserves affirm a particularly important reserve of natural gas.

Keith Elliott, Noble Energy’s senior vice president for Eastern Mediterranean, also remained upbeat:

Results from the Cyprus A-2 well have confirmed substantial recoverable natural gas resources and high reservoir deliverability.

Cyprus has talked about recovering 60 trillion cubit feet of gas from its reserves – although some analysts are skeptical.

Separately, there are reports from Cyprus that the country is considering withdrawing from Eurovision as part of its financial plight.

Can we come too?

Updated

Here’s a handy graph putting today’s US jobs data into some context:

US initial jobless claims rise slightly

The weekly US jobless claims data is out…and it shows a small rise in the number of people signing on for unemployment benefit last week.

The initial jobless claims total rose by 1,000 last week to 308,000. That’s close to the recent six-year low, and better than expected.

The four-week average fell, to 305,000 – which is the lowest since May 2007.

That won’t include the effect of the US government shutdown (as this data runs to 28 September and the shutdown began at midnight on 1 October).

Oil giant BP helped push the FTSE 100 higher this morning, after a US court ruled in its favour in a case about compensation payments following the Deepwater Horizon diasaster.

BP share are up 1.5% in London, and are expected to rise a similar amount in New York. Last night, judges ruled that the company should not be forced to pay billions of dollars in compensation to those not directly affected by the environmental damage following the oil rig explosion in which 11 men died.

Angela Monaghan explains:

The British oil company welcomed a ruling by the US court of appeals which will force a rethink on how compensation claims related to the disaster will be assessed.

The supreme court also ordered that payments must be stopped to people who did not suffer “actual injury traceable to loss” from the spill until cases have been properly heard and decided through the judicial process.

More here: BP welcomes US court of appeal ruling on Gulf of Mexico oil spill payouts

Here’s the situation in Europe’s stock markets this lunchtime:

(I was incorrect to say the DAX was closed today for Germany’s Unity Holiday — but given it’s down 0.02% it may as well be :) )

Plenty of chatter in the City today about whether America will raise its debt ceiling in time.

Gary Jenkins of Swordfish Research reckons Washington DC will get its act together, before the US crashes into the $16.7bn borrowing limit, probably around 17 October.

He writes;

After all, would politicians really be so stupid as to go through a process in which the potential unintended consequences could be so harmful, where there is no precedent for their actions and where there is no clear plan of what exactly they are trying to achieve? (Unless it’s to do with military action…).

Jenkins adds, though, that the US should be careful about appearing so blasé about its priorities:

 If the US were a company and the shareholders were openly discussing whether or not they should pay their bills or not then I find it hard to believe that the agencies would be taking such a relaxed view of the matter.

So, even if the politicians step back from the abyss, unless the debt ceiling dynamic is dealt with we could see a recurrence of current events. I do not know what the unintended consequences will be, but then again nor do the politicians. What I do know is that if I had the major economic and political advantage of having the world’s reserve currency and most wanted debt instrument is that I wouldn’t play around with it.

There’s talk in Washington of carving out a ‘Grand Bargain’ (a wide-ranging fiscal program designed to lower America’s long-term borrowing needs). That’s a tough task, though, especially when the two sides can’t agree to reopen the government.

Louise Cooper of Cooper City reckons any deal will just be a temporary patch-up job

While Ishaq Siddiqi, market strategist at ETX Capital, isn’t 100% convinced Washington will manage a deal in time.

The fact that US lawmakers are tied in a game of political brinkmanship over a fresh budget leaves traders not feeling too confident that lawmakers will be able to find common ground on raising the debt ceiling.

Indeed, failure to do so could see a US default. President Obama warned Wall Street last night that a conservative faction of the Republicans is willing to allow the US to default on its debt, lifting fears in the market that such a scenario could be played out.

The euro has risen around 0.2% against the US dollar to $1.360, while Europe’s stock markets are pretty calm.

Another Golden Dawn MP in court

Back to Greece, another Golden Dawn MP has arrived in court as the courtroom drama over the last two days continues to reverberate.

Michaloliakos’ right hand man, Christos Pappas, was also arrested on charges of overseeing a criminal organisation. His hearing was due to start at 1pm local time, or 11am BST.

Earlier this week anti-terror units discovered “a heap” of Nazi paraphernalia in Pappas’s home, including a book titled “Hitler by my side”.

Golden Dawn itself is furious that judges decided to jail its leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, ahead of a trial over charges that the party is a criminal gang. It issued a statement calling the move “wretched plot” and blaming it on ”foreign centres.”

From Athens, Helena Smith reports:

In a move that has stunned Greeks, Ilias Kasidiaris, the party’s spokesman who emerged from court yesterday kicking and shoving journalists, has now used the media to denounce the imprisonment of Michaloliakos.

“The detention of our general secretary is totally unjust, unconstitutional and has been dictated by foreign centres of power,” he has told reporters gathered outside the court.

Yesterday’s courtroom drama (and the violence seen outside court afterwards) also gets plenty of coverage in today’s newspapers.

Reuters flags up:

“The leader’s in, the gang’s out!” top-selling daily Ta Nea wrote on its front page. “It is the state’s duty to go to the end: The criminals need to be revealed, they need to be tried, and they need to pay,” the newspaper said.

Kathimerini makes an important point. This is a live criminal trial, Due process needs to be followed.

The fact that certain Golden Dawn deputies were released from pretrial custody – conditionally – does not in any way represent evidence of their innocence, just as their being remanded to appear before a magistrate had not meant that they were guilty of the crimes being leveled against them.

Updated

More good news for the European economy: retail sales were much stronger than expected in August.

Eurostat reported that retail sales volumes rose by 0.7% in the euro area, and 0.4% across the wider European Union in August. July’s data was also revised higher, showing consumers weren’t as cautious about spending as first thought.

Eurostat’s data shows that non-food shopping was strong, rising by 0.6% in the eurozone. That covers items such as computers, clothing and medical products.

The data also showed an increase in fuel purchases, suggesting a rise in motor journeys. Spending on “automotive fuel in specialised stores” (that’s petrol stations to you and me) was up by 0.9% across euro members.

Nice result for Spain in the bond markets this morning, suggesting the political tensions in the euro area have eased following yesterday’s Italian confidence vote.

Spain sold its maximum target of debt in a strong auction, in which borrowing costs hit their lowest level in three years.

The auction saw the Spanish treasury shift €1.18bn of 10-year bonds at a yield (the rate of return on the debt) of 4.269%, a drop on the 4.5% paid last month.

Updated

UK service sector on a charge

The UK’s service sector has revival continues, with the strongest quarterly growth in 16 years - driven by the upswing in the housing market.

The monthly PMI survey shows that September was another strong month — with a reading of 60.3, close to August’s seven-month high of 60.5 and deep into expansion territory.

However, firms dependent on consumer spending aren’t doing quite as well as financial firms, it appears….

Reuters handily provides more details:

The sector saw jobs growth in September, something mirrored in surveys of manufacturing and construction earlier this week.

Over the third quarter as a whole, the index – measuring the change in activity, including income and chargeable hours worked, from the previous month – averaged its highest level since the second quarter of 1997, Markit said.

“Growth is being led by financial services – linked in part to increased housing market activity – and the business sector,” said Chris Williamson, chief economist at survey compilers Markit.

“Consumer-facing services continue to struggle, reflecting the ongoing squeeze on incomes due to weak pay growth and high inflation.”

Around half of firms surveyed in the service sector – which makes up more than three quarters of Britain’s output – expected even brisker trade in a year’s time, with the outlook index rising to 71.8.

Service providers reported that a jump in new business last month placed strain on resources, with backlogs of work rising at the fastest pace in more than 13 years.The workload, along with firms’ optimism about future business, led to a solid rise in employment and some pay rises.

Updated

Eurozone private sector output hits 27-month high

The eurozone recovery is gathering pace, with its private sector firms reporting the biggest leap in activity since June 2011 last month.

Data firm Markit’s monthly surveys of companies across the single currency showed a solid rise in activity.

New business has picked up, and the rate of job cuts may finally be slowing to a halt.

Markit’s monthly survey of activity came in at 52.2, up from August’s 51.5. Both service sector firms and manufacturers said conditions were better.

Here’s some key factoids from the report (online here)

Ireland: 55.7 2-month low
Germany: 53.2 2-month low
Italy: 52.8 29-month high
France: 50.5 20-month high
Spain: 49.6 2-month low

The news comes hours after China’s service sector output hit a 6-month high.

Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, said the eurozone data showed Europe’s recovery on track, despite Spain’s private firms faltering after a better August.

The final PMI confirms the message from the earlier flash reading that the eurozone enjoyed its strongest quarter of expansion for just over two years in the third quarter. With the rate of expansion picking up in September, the survey bodes well for ongoing growth in the final quarter of the year.

Growth is being led by Germany, but France has also now returned to growth. Even more encouraging are the upbeat survey data for Ireland and Italy, both of which show signs of returning to robust growth, and Spain has also stabilised, as ongoing weakness in the domestic economy is offset by a strong upturn in exports.

But don’t get the bunting out yet — this only suggests a weak recovery.

Williamson explains:

Growth remains only modest – the Eurozone PMI is consistent with GDP rising by just 0.2% on the third quarter, and the political instability that has reared up in Italy is a reminder that there remains plenty of scope for recoveries to be derailed.

Updated

Italian service sector finally growing

Good news from Italy this morning – its service sector has burst back into growth for the first time in 28 months.

This may suggest the Italian economy has finally stopped shrinking, a new boost a day after prime minister Enrico Letta faced down Silvio Berlusconi’s revolt.

Data provider Markit says it’s a welcome sign that the economic recovery could be underway, with the monthly PMI jumping to 52.7 in September, from 48.8 in August. It’s not been over the 50-point mark (which separates contraction from expansion) since May 2011.

Here’s the key points:

• Business activity lifted by increase in new work

• Job shedding continues, but at slower rate

• Future expectations highest in more than two years

Credit Agricole’s Frederik Ducrozet is encouraged:

Phil Smith, economist at Markit, said the data shows “the first signs” of recovery in the Italian economy after some grim months. But without political stability, he warned, it could quickly deteriorate.

He explained:

Should the data hold up, however, there may also be a return to growth in service sector employment, which showed its slowest fall for 16 months in September.

A significant improvement in businesses’ expectations for the year ahead will have no doubt also helped on this front.

The data, alongside those for manufacturing, show Italian GDP at least stabilising in Q3 and perhaps even rising slightly for the first time in more than two years. Political stability is key to this forward momentum being sustained into the later stages of the year and beyond.

Updated

Overnight in Greece, the head of the far-right Golden Dawn party was remanded in custody, hours after three of his MPs were released pending trial.

Another MP, Yannis Lagos, was also detained, as was Giorgos Patelis, the head of Golden Dawn’s local office in the area west of Athens where hip-hop star Pavlos Fyssas was stabbed two weeks ago. <updated, many thanks to reader Kizbot>

All the men faces charges of running a criminal gang, which they deny.

From Athens, Helena Smith reported:

Armed police led Nikos Mihaloliakos away from the courthouse in handcuffs in the early hours of Thursday after testimony lasting more than six hours.

His wife and daughter, also party members, and other Golden Dawn MPs, stood outside the building and shouted words of encouragement to him as he was led away.

“The ridiculous little men, they decided to jail the leader,” said party MP Michalis Arvanitis.

Golden Dawn leader jailed pending trial after Athens hearing

Updated

Just in – Spain’s service sector suffered a drop in activity in last month. Its PMI index has fallen into contraction territory again — at 49.0 in September, down from 50.4 (showing slight growth) in August.

Markit, which compiles the PMI data, also reported that new order growth slowed. On the upside, optimism hit a 41-month high.

Spain’s government ministers have been boldly declaring that the recession is over. This data doesn’t suggest much of a recovery yet.

Andrew Harker, senior economist at Markit, commented:

The Spanish service sector failed to show much sign of a recovery during September as activity fell back in response to weaker new order growth which itself had been supported by further sharp discounting.

One bright spot from the latest survey was that companies were at their most optimistic about the future for nearly three-and-a-half years, suggesting that Spanish service providers are seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.

Markets edge higher

Shares are edging a little higher in early trading — suggesting China’s strong service sector data is trumping US deadlock woes.

Here’s the early prices: (German’s DAX is closed for a public holiday)

FTSE 100: up 20 points at 6458, + 0.3%

French CAC: up 7 points at 4,165, + 0.18%

Italian FTSE MIB: up 98 points at 18,191, +0.5%

Spanish IBEX: up 21 points at 9,371, +0.23%

Mike van Dulken, head of research at Accendo Markets, reckons there’s some “cautious optimism” in the City this morning, despite the lack of progress in Washington DC. He argues that, with America on track to smash into its debt ceiling on 17 October, there’s little chance of the Federal Reserve turning down its bond-buying stimulus programme soon:

Sentiment is still not quite ignoring, but nor is it pricing in the worst case scenario – which is no agreement until debt ceiling deadline, and possible sovereign default.

The possible assumption is that default won’t be allowed, but the longer the budget takes to sort out, the longer the Fed is held off from tapering. Happy days for easy money policy lovers and risk appetite.

Updated

Michael Hewson of CMC Markets says traders will be hoping for encouraging data from Europe’s service sector this morning:

As we enter the third day of the shutdown of the US government the various positions seem as inextricably entrenched as ever. On the plus side at least we don’t have to worry about the soap opera playing out in Italy as Silvio Berlusconi negotiated what could be politely called a tactical withdrawal and agreed to support Enrico Letta’s government after it became apparent he didn’t have his party’s support with respect to the confidence vote.

While he may have run into a brick wall on this occasion Berlusconi has never lacked the capacity to surprise, so I would doubt that we have heard the last of him in this regard.

In any case while the political uncertainty in Italy may have subsided for now it still remains quite likely that any type of reform is still set to remain slow and problematic.

As for the rest of Europe’s markets while the FTSE may get a slight boost from a positive China services PMI, they continue to have one eye on events in the US, finishing lower yesterday along with US markets, though after yesterday’s non event of an ECB press conference, todays focus is on the latest services PMI data for September for Italy, Spain, France and Germany. All are expected to show positive readings above 50, with the exception of Italy, which is expected to come in at 49.2, raising expectations of a continued recovery.

Chinese service sector output hits six-month high

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

Looks like a mixed day ahead . Growing concern over the US government shutdown have taken the shine of some encouraging Chines economic data earlier today.

While in Europe, Italy is waking up to front pages dominated by Silvio Berlusconi’s humiliating defeat in the Senate yesterday, where prime minister Enrico Letta swept home in his confidence vote. More on this shortly.

First the good news — growth in China’s service sector has surged to a six month high. Activity jumped to 55.4 in September, from 53.9 in August, as measured by the official Purchasing Managers Index (anything over 50 points = growth).

That suggests that Beijing’s efforts to pep up the Chinese economy is bearing fruit this autumn.

Craig Erlam, analyst at Alpari, explained:

This is just another sign that the government’s targeted stimulus efforts, which were announced a few months ago in order to combat the slowing growth in the economy and achieve its minimum 7% growth target, are having the desired effect on the economy.

That might normally give stock markets a boost, especially with more service sector data due from the eurozone and UK this morning.

But now the bad news — Wednesday was another day of deadlock in Washington, despite US bank chiefs urging politicians on Capitol Hill to get a grip before it’s too late.

Obama meets bank chiefs as economists warn of ‘deep and dark recession’ 

So it’s probably going to be a nervy day in the markets….

Updated

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ECB keeps rates at record low 0.5% as the 17-nation economy recovers from the prolonged recession. Italian Prime Minister Letta survives as Berlusconi caves in. Letta: A new election would be a disaster. Anger in Greece as Golden Dawn MPs released…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Berlusconi backs Italian prime minister in crunch confidence vote – live” was written by Graeme Wearden, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 2nd October 2013 12.11 UTC

It will be fascinating to see what Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank, makes of the Italian situation when he begins a press conference in 20 minutes time (as expected, they have left interest rates unchanged)

Our Southern European editor John Hooper says Berlusconi has saved face, but lost influence:

Enrico Letta definitely looked less than euphoric as Berlusconi yanked hard on the political handbrake, and declared with palpable understatement:

we have decided, not without some internal strife, to support the government.

The general view among Italian political journalists is that Letta would be much better off without Berlusconi around at all. Instead, Letta remains the prime minister of a shaky coalition.

Having said that, Berlusconi is damaged by the antics of the last few days. The remarkable political gymnastics must have taken their toll — and an optimist might argue that PdL is irrevocably on the path to a new future….

Updated

Why Berlusconi caved in

What drama!

So, here’s the position. By sensationally dropping his opposition to Enrico Letta, Silvio Berlusconi has guaranteed that the Italian government survives.

Add all Berlusconi’s PdL senators to Letta’s existing support — his PD party, plus small parties and senators for life — and it’s a healthy majority.

So why did Berlusconi do it? Clearly, he concluded that he could not keep enough of his PdL party onside. The photo I included in the blog earlier showed a long list of rebels.

If Berlusconi hadn’t pulled such a SCREECHING u-turn, then he would presumably have seen his group shatter. The moderates would have followed Letta, and he’d have been left nursing a rump faction.

Updated

The Italian stock market jumped as the news came in, pushing the FTSE MIB up 1.4% today.

Italian government debt prices remain high, with the yield on 10-year bonds down at 4.38% (from 4.46% yesterday).

Here’s the key quotes from Berlusoni, before he threw his support behind Letta a few moments ago.

Updated

Berlusconi himself buried his head in his hands after announcing that the PdL party will support Letta — which means today’s confidence vote is a WIN for the prime minister.

It was not the speech of a winner — rather of a man whose long grip on his party may be slipping .

There’s applause in the Senate as Berlusconi says he will support Enrico Letta — although I think I saw Letta pull a rather rueful grin.

BERLUSCONI BACKS LETTA

BERLUSCONI SAYS HE AND HIS PEOPLE OF FREEDOM PARTY WILL SUPPORT LETTA.

Berlusconi

Berlusconi is addressing the Senate in an atmosphere of silence, trying to sound statesmanlike….

Berlusconi’s got the microphone!

Former technocratic prime minister Mario Monti just gave a brisk speech, in which he urged senators not to risk Italy falling into the troika and its “neocolonial oversight”. If Italy is forced to take a bailout, it could take years to recover, Monti warned.

Updated

While we wait for that vote, here’s Reuters’ report on Letta’s second speech to the Senate:

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta said on Wednesday his government could achieve reforms even with a smaller majority, as he wound up a debate on a confidence vote in which he has been boosted by dissidents from Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right party.

“Our government can reach its objectives despite the fact that the majority’s numbers have changed,” Letta said as he formally put a confidence motion to the Senate, which is expected to complete the vote in the early afternoon.

Letta spoke at length about Italy’s role in the European Union and his goal to push for greater integration during the country’s rotating presidency in the second half of 2014, suggesting he sees his government lasting at least until 2015.

The vote hasn’t actually started yet. Senators are continuing to give their views. The latest word from Rome is that Berlusconi isn’t expected to speak (but given today’s twists and turns, let’s see).

Rome correspondent Lizzy Davies reports that two distinguished honorary senators, architect Renzo Piano and conductor Claudio Abbado, are both absent because they are out of the country.

Confidence Vote has been called

To repeat, Enrico Letta has called for a vote of confidence.

After a dramatic couple of hours in the Senate, we still don’t know what’s going to happen. There have been rumours that Berlusconi will back Letta, and also that he will order the entire PdL party to vote against. Speculation abounds.

We do know that there is a solid bunch of ‘dovish’ PdL senators who are unlikely to bow to pressure from Berlusconi, and are highly likely to back Letta. But we do not know if it will be enough.

As John Hooper flagged up the Berlusconi rebels are talking about creating a new party called ”Popolari per l’Italia”.

Wolf Piccoli, managing director at Teneo Intelligence, is as reliable as any, and he reckons Letta might get 171 votes — that’s a win, as he needs 160 for victory.

A briefer speech from Letta this time — his main message to the Senate is that today is a historic opportunity. Tomorrow the government must get back to work.

Amid applause from some members of the senate, Letta calls for a confidence vote:

Updated

Letta still looks calm:

Updated

Letta speaks again as vote looms

Italian prime Enrico Letta is beginning his second speech to the Senate, explaining that he didn’t sleep last night as he worked to hold the government together.

He’s initially heard in silence (gosh it’s tense), but there’s some heckling as Letta bluntly tells the Senate that he’s not prepared to keep taking “lessons in morality” from those who are holding him to ransom.

Letta then tells Senators that he needs their support. A smaller majority will make it even hard for him to govern.

Letta back on his feet

Enrico Letta is speaking again in the Italian parliament. Reminder: it’s being streamed on RAI News.

Updated

The rumour mill keeps swirling in Italy ahead of this lunchtime’s confidence vote. One insider reckons Berlusconi is going to back Letta, the next says he’s not. Confusion reigns (not for the first, or last time).

John Hooper, our Souther Europe editor, reports that Berlusconi’s rebels are talking of creating a new party called “Popolari per l’Italia” – even if the loyalist wing of PdL join them by supporting Letta.

Plenty of concern in Greece that three Golden Dawn MPs were released from court this morning, and promptly kicked and shoved their way through the assembled media .

Here’s a flavour:

Three Golden Dawn MPs released on bail – lash out at press

Breaking away to Greece briefly.

Four of the Golden Dawn MPs who were arrested as part of the clampdown on the neo-Nazi party appeared in court today. Three of the men were promptly released pending a future trial, while party leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos is due back in court later today.

TV footage from the scene shows one cameraman being pushed out of the way, while another man is kicked as the MPs and their supporters leave the scene.

Here’s the video clip showing the aggressive scenes:

And here’s Kathimerini’s early take:

Only one of four Golden Dawn deputies arrested last week on charges of heading a criminal organization responsible for a range of felonies, including murder, assault, blackmail and money laundering, among others, was remanded in custody on Wednesday, while another three were released pending trial, one of them posting a 50,000 euro bail.

Yiannis Lagos was expected to be transferred to a local jail on Wednesday following a unanimous decision reached by two investigative magistrates and two prosecutors.

Party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris was ordered to post a €50,000 bail and not to exit the country. Deputies Ilias Panayiotaros and Nikos Michos were also ordered not to leave the country.

The clampdown followed the death of 34-year-old rapper Pavlos Fyssas two weeks ago. A Golden Dawn member was subsequently arrested over the stabbing.

More to follow

Updated

Here’s a photo that appears to show the list of Senators from the People of Freedom party who are considering backing Enrico Letta:

Rumours flying:

It is increasingly likely that Enrico Letta has enough votes for victory, even if Berlusconi decides to back him.

Letta needs 161 votes for victory – although he would like more. Vincenzo Scarpetta of Open Europe reckons that he currently has 170 senators behind him, based on the latest reports and public statements.

Here’s how Barclays summed it up this morning:

Letta has the numbers to survive the vote today. The Government needs the support of 161 Senators, and can count on 137.

With the support of the life Senators, and defectors from the smaller parties (including M5S) it is likely to get to around 147-149. Letta therefore only needs around 12-14 PdL Senators to defect in order to survive. With the PdL split he is likely to get this.

More reaction to the reports that Berlusconi is considering throwing his support behind Enrico Letta in the confidence vote:

It would be a stunning u-turn from Silvio Berlusconi if, as reports suggest, he has now decided to back Enrico Letta in today’s vote of confidence.

But it wouldn’t exactly be out of character — and a number of political journalists and analysts were suggesting yesterday that this might happen, once we learned that his party were rebelling.

Remember, it was Berlusconi who triggered this crisis by threatening to bring the government down last week — by withdrawing his PdL party from the Letta coalition.

If he backs Letta today, then he could still trigger a crisis in future.

As Serena Ruffoni of the WSJ put it to me:

I don’t think the Letta government is any stronger even if it survives this confidence vote.

Updated

Reports: Berlusconi’s Party to back Letta

Important: Sky Italia is reporting that the People of Freedom party are going to BACK Enrico Letta in the confidence vote.

If true, that means Letta would win a solid majority. It would also suggest that Berlusconi has decided that he cannot bring his rebels back into line, and has decided to fall in with them.

That is NOT the best result for Letta, though. While he’d still be in power, he’d also still be lumbered with the Berlusconi problem.

Market reaction

The Italian stock market surged during Enrico Letta’s speech, hitting a new two-year high as the PM sat down.

Italian government bonds are also strengthening, which has pushed the yield on its 10-year debt down to 4.37% . It as as high as 4.74% on Monday after Berlusconi launched his bid to bring the Letta government down.

Senators are now speaking, with one tearing into Silvio Berlusconi — calling the former prime minister “‘a simple story of criminality”.

The BBC’s Gavin Hewitt reckons the gloves are off, as the battle for Italy’s future continues:

Updated

Letta speech: instant reaction

How did he do?

Five months isn’t enough time to build a track record of leadership success — and much of Letta’s time as prime minister has been overshadowed by Berlusconi’s legal defeats.

It was a speech of vision — asking Senators to choose between future of a more competitive, thriving Italy, or a future of political strife, fresh elections, and the prospect of another divided parliament at the end of it.

Letta isn’t the most thrilling orator in European politics, but he has a mature, sensible style.

Highlights of his speech start here.

Updated

Letta’s speech over

Worth noting that Berlusconi didn’t applaud Letta as he ended his speech – so he’s not thrown in the towel yet….

Enrico Letta concluded his speech by urging those in the chamber to give him their ”courage and confidence”. “A confidence that is not against anyone; a confidence that is for Italy” (quotes via Lizzy).

He also urged senators to search their consciences, and avoid a result that would leave them feeling “shameful regret”.

While Letta was speaking, Berlusconi could be seen holding discussion with some of his allies. I grabbed a picture:

Oh the drama….

There’s also a European theme to the speech — with Letta speaking of the need to dream of a “United States of Europe” one day. That fits with his tradition of being a solid Europhile (he was an MEP at one stage of his career)

Letta is outlining his vision for Italy — saying that growth and jobs must be the focus in 2014.

Apparently Berlusconi has told Italian media that he will listen to Letta’s speech and then decide whether to support him or not.

Enrico Letta’s speech is turning into a solid defense of his government’s record in the five months since he took over (colleague Lizzy Davies dubs it a “ very level-headed and systematic defense”.

But will that be enough to persuade PdL members to back him? As explained earlier — Letta would like to see 30 rebels jump the fence. He needs more than 20 (I think 24 is the magic number).

Letta also cited three priorities – support economic recovery; cutting taxes on workers, and increasing competition in Italy’s economy.

Letta is continuing to defend his government’s record on the economy — part of the strategy to persuade moderate members of the Berlusconi camp to back him.

It is on ordinary people suffering in economic crisis that our actions will have biggest effect, he said.

A better webfeed

Berlusconi’s just arrived! He also looks weary, probably due to late night efforts to corall rebelling members of his PdL party into line.

No sign of Silvio Berlusconi at the start of Letta’s crunch speech. Angelino Alfano (deputy PM) is there, and there’s a consensus that he looks nervous.

(see 8.22am for a blurry snap of Dudu not being walked)

Looks like the confidence vote will come at midday — earlier than the previous indications.

And how many rebels will there be?

Lizzy Davies writes:

It’s all about the numbers today. Giovanardi claimed yesterday there were “more than 40″- believed to be as many as 44- PdL MPs prepared to vote for the confidence vote. But the Italian press reports that Berlusconi’s hawks told him the rebels were much- much- less numerous. Who’s right?

We’ll find out soon. Letta needs over 20 rebels. He’d be happier with more than 30.

Updated

Letta went on to warn that a new election could cause the same gridlock as last time:

Enrico Letta is urging parliament to give him a mandate for a “real and new” pact to tackle Italy’s problems.

(a reminder — Italy’s last election, in February, resulted in deadlock — with no party winning a majority in the Senate. Eventually a coalition was agreed between the centre-left PD and Berlusconi’s centre-right PdL, with Letta (a senior member of PD) as leader)

Here’s the key early quotes from Letta’s speech:

Letta speech begins

Prime minister Enrico Letta has begun to give one of the speeches of his political life, in a bid to win enough support to continue as the head of Italy’s shaky coalition government.

Before he started, there was a standing ovation for the country’s veteran president, Giorgio Napolitano.

Letta began his speech in the Italian parliament by urging its members to “seize the moment”. And, as expected, he insisted that the legal troubles of Silvio Berlusconi cannot be an excuse to bring the country’s government down.

But can he persuade enough of Berlusconi’s PdL party to back him?

Lizzy Davies is tweeting the key points, so I’ll be embedding them in the blog now….

Watch the speech here

Enrico Letta has begun speaking in the Italian parliament.

There’s a live stream here. However, it’s very flaky.

Key points from his speech will follow!

Update: the latest word from Italy is that we might get the confidence vote around midday, not this evening as I initially thought. 

Markets down

Europe’s stock markets are all in the red today, with the FTSE 100 shedding 73 points. There’s nervousness about the situation in Italy, and also a knock-on effect from a bad day in Asia. The US Federal government shutdown isn’t exactly helping sentiment.

Overnight, the Nikkei tumbled 2% after the latest stimulus package from prime minister Abe failed to excite investors.

Updated

Tesco shares lead fallers in London

In the City, Tesco’s shares are leading the fallers on the FTSE 100 after issuing a trading statement, down over 3%.

Britain’s biggest supermarket reported zero growth in like-for like UK sales, excluding fuel and VAT sales tax, in the 13 weeks to 24 August.

Tesco also warned that it faced ‘challenging economic conditions’ overseas. Europe was particularly tough, with profits down almost 70% and like-for-like sales down by 5% in the first half of the year.

Sainsbury posted stronger figures in the UK (as expected) – sales at British stores open at least a year were up 2%. Its shares are also suffering, though, down 1.5%. More here.

Wolf Piccoli, managing director at Teneo Intelligence, agrees that it could be a long day in the Rome parliament:

Analysts at Nordea Markets say it’s “fight night” in Italy, and possibly Berlusconi’s final bout.

In the red corner, we have PM Letta, who has probably worked hard – together with the President – to convince some of Berlusconi’s senators that new elections at this point is in no one’s interest.

A vote for a continuation of the current government and later on a vote for a budget and a new electoral law would make for a fresh start after spring elections. In the blue corner, we have Berlusconi. Media are full of stories about Berlusconi’s outstanding merits when it comes to winning tight political battles. But this time it seems that even members of his own party believes he has gone too far. Even Alfano – who has been seen as the crown prince in the PDL – said that he might vote for a continuation of the government.

Furthermore, it may be the old Champs last fight, if he is stripped of his senatorial seat on Friday. It will be a close call. Italy, and to a lesser extent Spain, will sell off if the government falls.

Jeremy Cook of World First agrees:

What might Letta tell parliament in his speech this morning?

Lizzy Davies explains that his speech is likely to focus on the socio-economic suffering of Italy, and tell deputies that they cannot just let its government fall.

His strategy will be to ram home the idea that the judicial woes of one man* have to be kept separate from the interests of the country – in an effort to split the doves in Berlusconi’s party from the hawks.

• – that man being Berlusconi himself, of course, who is on the brink of being expelled from the Senate after his tax fraud conviction.

In the comments section, regular reader mrwicket has outlined the potential scenarios from tonight’s vote.

As he flags up, we’re not 100% certain that a confidence vote will actually be called — Enrico Letta will probably judge the mood of the Senate first, and if he feels he can’t win then he might simply resign.

So, Django Alfano is standing his ground and wants to support Letta in the vote of confidence, as do the other maybe ministers and a chunk of the party.

Berlusconi says he wants the government to fall and to have new elections.

The two will meet again this morning at 9’30 so things could change.

Marina Berlusconi is said to be ready to enter into politics.

I asked yesterday how you could have a vote of confidence in a government that didn’t exist. On Monday, Letta’s office said the resignations were irrevocable but yesterday afternoon, it announced that it had refused to accept them. The ‘maybe ministers’ will walk into parliament today as ministers.

Giovanardi claimed yesterday that there were 40 PdL senators ready to vote for Letta (some reports in the evening said that number was dwindling). He even spoke of a new party called Nuova Italia

There were some nasty exchanges last night between Sallusti, editor of Il Giornale and Cicchitto, an important PdL dissident. Sallusti said they were cowards, hitting the man when he was down and that they had forgotten what had happened to Fini. “They are stabbing him in the back in his moment of weakness. They are cowards because they didn’t have the courage to do it when he was strong.”
“No! You are the coward!” etc…

Letta has said he will refuse to govern with a weak majority.

————

Possible scenarios;

Letta wins vote of confidence with sufficient votes to continue in government.

Letta wins vote of confidence with insufficient votes to continue in government and Napolitano sets up a technical government.

Letta wins vote of confidence by a narrow margin and continues to govern

Letta loses vote of confidence and Napolitano sets up a technical government.

Letta doesn’t call for a vote of confidence and Napolitano sets up a technical government.

————

With regard to policy, there would be very little to distinguish between a Letta government and a technical government so we will be as we were after this dramatic little interlude. The change is likely to be inside the PdL.

Lisa Jucca, Reuters chief financial correspondent in Italy, agrees that this could be the moment that Angelino Alfano, Berlusconi’s right-hand man for so long, finally rises up:

How Letta can win

Silvio Berlusconi is facing an unprecedented rebellion, opening up the possibility that Letta can surge to victory tonight. As our Rome correspondent, Lizzy Davies, explains:

To win the confidence vote in the senate, Letta needs to attract extra votes from either the centre-right PdL or the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) to reach the magic number of 161. He has said, however, that he has no interest in continuing at the head of a government that only sneaks in by a handful of votes.

His chances appeared to have been significantly boosted on Tuesday, when Carlo Giovanardi, a long-time ally of Berlusconi, struck the first major blow when he announced that “more than 40″ PdL MPs were prepared to vote to keep the government afloat.

Then, in a stunning move likened by one observer to an “Et tu, Brute?” moment, Angelino Alfano, the deputy prime minister long seen as Berlusconi’s political heir, appeared to solidify the mutiny. “I remain firmly convinced that all our party should tomorrow back the confidence vote in Letta,” he said, according to Ansa.

Here’s the full story: Silvio Berlusconi’s allies turn on him to keep Italy’s grand coalition alive

Make-or-break confidence vote for Italian PM

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

After yesterday’s foray into the US shutdown , we’re back in familiar territory today – the political crisis in Italy, with a monthly meeting of the European Central Bank on top.

Enrico Letta, Italy’s prime minister, is heading to parliament this morning for a make-or-break confidence vote. It was triggered by Silvio Berlusconi’s decision last Saturday to ordered his ministers out of the coalition, to bring Letta down.

Does Letta still have the support of the lower house, and the Senate? If not, Italy could be plunged deeper into chaos.

But Letta could win, and wins well, if Berlusconi’s centre-right party defy their disgraced leader and through their support behind the PM. Yesterday, key members of the People of Freedom party (PdL) said they would support the coalition [an alliance between Letta's own centre-left PD and the PdL].

The big question is how many PdL members of the Senate decide to throw their support behind Letta today.

Letta is due to start giving his first speech at around 9.30am Rome time, or 8.30am BST. The actual confidence vote could be quite late (we’ll update with firm timings when we have them).

The other key event in the eurozone today is the monthly meeting of the ECB’s governing council. They’re in Paris today. We’re not expecting any change to interest rates. There’s also a press conference at 2.30pm Paris time (1.30pm BST), where Mario Draghi will be quizzed over a range of issues, doubtless including his homeland of Italy.

I’ll be tracking all the developments through the day…

Updated

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Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Athens government seeks two-month extension. University of Athens ‘suspends operations. Germany’s firms more confident as recovery continues. UK mortgage approvals hit highest since Dec 2009. Long slog expected over German coalition…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Greece pleads for more time over public sector reforms – live” was written by Graeme Wearden, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 24th September 2013 17.06 UTC

Italian PM Enrico Letta is discussing the future of Telecom Italia, after Spain’s Telefonica announced plans to take a much larger stake in its parent company (up to 70%).

Fab Goria tweets the key points:

And here’s more details of the University of Athens’ decision to suspend operations, because (it says) public sector job cuts have made it impossible to continue: University of Athens, NTUA Suspend Operations

Updated

Greek government pleads for more time over public sector layoffs

Over in Greece our correspondent Helena Smith reports that the government has appealed for more time to press on with the troika’s most controversial of demands yet: public sector dismissals.

Inspectors from the EU, ECB and IMF have yet to respond, on a day in which Greek public workers protested again.

And in another worrying development, the University of Athens has suspended all its operations, saying it cannot keep functioning with so many staff laid off.

Helena writes:

Barely two days after negotiations with visiting troika representatives began, prime minister Antonis Samaras’ coalition government has upped the ante asking for yet more time to implement reforms.

At a meeting with mission heads from the EU, ECB and IMF, the administrative reform minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis appealed for a two-month extension to the deadline Athens presently has to transfer some 12,500 civil servants into a so–called mobility scheme where employees would see their salaries drastically reduced before being moved, if lucky, to another government department.

Insiders at the ministry described the atmosphere of the talks “as very positive” – in sharp contrast to the environment outside where thousands of demonstrators gathered to issue howls of protests.

To underline that point about a positive atmosphere the meeting was even cut short, apparently by a good 40 minutes. But a source close to the troika was not so confident.

He said:

They [auditors] made it clear that they would come back with an answer Friday.

Yes, Greece has made progress but there is a feeling that what we are seeing is yet more stalling of the inevitable with the government once again biding time.

After a mad dash scramble the ministry managed to complete the first phase of the scheme – identifying 12,500 civil servants who could be transferred to the programme by the end of the month. Most are from the education sector and have included teachers, administrative staff and school guards.

But the effects of the crude fiscal logic that has often guided those decisions has not been without consequence.

Earlier today the University of Athens repeated that with layoffs making its “educational, research and administrative operation … objectively impossible” it regretted to inform the public that it was “forced to suspend all of its operations.”

“There is a possibility that the next six months could be lost but the bigger issue is not to lose the university altogether,” its rector Theodosis Pelegrinis said. The academic insisted the dismissals had been handled “in an excessive manner” without foresight or any proper review.

Describing the job losses as “incomprehensible” the university’s senate said the cuts would lead with mathematical precision to “undermining higher education and the young generation of Greece, the only real hope for overcoming the social and economic crisis in the years to come.”

Syriza, the radical left main opposition party that has spurred on protests, announced that its leader Alexis Tsipras would hold talks with school teachers tomorrow.

A bad day for cruise firm Carnival, which has been keelhauled to the bottom of the FTSE 100.

Carnival shares fell by 5.6% today, after it warned that bookings are sharply lower this year.

As my colleague Nick Fletcher explains, Carnival spooked the markets by reporting a 30% fall in third quarter earnings after problems with a number of its ships. Most famously, Costa Concordia, which was finally refloated last week after crashing in early 2012.

Bookings for the rest of 2013 and the first half of 2014 are down on the previous year, the company admitted.

It admitted it could take three years for the Costa brand to recover its reputation, following the Concordia disaster in Italy and another setback involving Costa’s Triumph vessel which stranded passengers for five days. Mechanical problems have dogged some of its other vessels.

Video: Top banker under fire over Libor answers

The Libor scandal has taken another twist this afternoon. 

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Alex Wilmot-Sitwell, a former top UBS executive, is under fire over the testimony he gave to Parliament in January, regarding attempts by traders to fix the rate at which banks would lend to each other.

Wilmot-Sitwell told MPs on the Treasury Committee that he didn’t recall Tom Hayes, one of the traders at the heart of the scandal. But the WSJ’s David Enrich has discovered that Wilmot-Sitwell was included on various emails which discussed Hayes — who was charged over the Libor affair in June.

Mark Garnier MP, a member of the Treasury Committee, says Wilmot-Sitwell has “questions to answer”.

Here’s the full email chain

And here’s the WSJ’s story: Ex-UBS Executive Under Fire Over Libor Testimony

Greece threatened with demotion, again

FTSE Group, the stock market index company, has again threatened to expel Greece from its list of Developed Markets, and rank it as an Advanced Emerging market.

In its Annual Country Classification Review, published this afternoon, FTSE said it was leaving Greece on its Watch List, for yet another year. Greece was first placed on Watch for a possible downgrade in 2006. 

  • Argentina: Possible demotion from Frontier
  • China ‘A’ Share: Possible inclusion as Secondary Emerging
  • Greece: Possible demotion from Developed to Advanced Emerging
  • Kazakhstan: Possible inclusion as Frontier
  • Kuwait: Possible inclusion as Secondary Emerging
  • Mongolia: Possible inclusion as Frontier
  • Morocco: Possible demotion from Secondary Emerging to Frontier
  • Poland: Possible promotion from Advanced Emerging to Developed
  • Qatar: Possible promotion from Frontier to Secondary Emerging
  • Taiwan: Possible promotion from Advanced Emerging to Developed

Morocco and Qatar are new entries, while Ukraine has been booted off the list. It had been lined up for “possible promotion to Frontier market status”, but FTSE is now worried about:

…continuing delays in market developments and no timelines as to when the market developments regarding regulatory oversight, capital controls, treatment of minority shareholders and settlement will be implemented.

Updated

If you’ve not seen it already, do check out this article on Comment Is Free today about Greece’s neo nazi Golden Dawn party, and the investigation into links between the party and the Greek police.

Here’s a flavour:

For a period, Greece’s experience of general strikes, occupations and social movement protests came close to insurrection. This is as near to what Gramsci called a crisis of authority as one can get. The political control of the state has been breaking down. It is this breakdown of authority – which reactionaries blame on immigration, foreign control and communist agitation – that fuels Golden Dawn’s support.

The situation is toxic. Austerity has not run its course, any more than the recession, or the social misery engendered by it. The only recourse of the left is to render Golden Dawn useless by incapacitating it, obstructing its activities and shutting it down as an effective street-fighting fascist organisation.

More here (where regular reader Kizbot had been putting the world to rights in the comments):

Golden Dawn’s rise signals breakdown of the Greek state’s authority

Updated

A weak start on Wall Street, with the Dow Jones index dropping 55 points in early trading to 15345, –.35%.

Once again (again) traders are fretting over the question of when the Federal Reserve will start tapering its QE programme.

There are some big risers, though — particularly in the tech sector. Facebook are up 4% to a new lifetime high after an upgrade from Citi and predictions of a new access deal in China, while Yahoo’s up 3% to a six-year high.

No rush for the Bank’s probing Paul Tucker

Bank of England deputy governor Paul Tucker has joined the chorus of policymakers and it would appear he is singing from the same hymn sheet on forward guidance, reports my colleague Katie Allen.

She’s swiftly digested Tucker’s lunchtime speech (see 1.57pm for the snaps), and explains that Tucker’s speech matches other pronouncements from BoE policymakers this week, all defending the Bank’s new approach.

Katie writes:

Fellow Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) member David Miles said earlier today that he believed the Bank’s promise to keep interest rates low until the recovery is well entrenched could help nurture the nascent upturn.

On Monday, their colleague Ben Broadbent defended tying policy to the unemployment rate.
Tucker’s view is that forward guidance can be particularly useful during a period when the recovery is beginning to take hold. And he wants people to know the MPC is in no rush to take away its economic crutches.

According to the text of his speech to the Association for Financial Markets in Europe (AFME), he said:

Saying more about the committee’s approach to policy in this way might be particularly valuable during a period when signs of recovery have become more apparent. These are conditions in which it would be very easy for the financial markets, businesses and households to jump to the mistaken conclusion that monetary stimulus will soon begin to be withdrawn. Given the slack in the economy, the Committee is not in a rush.

On the question of the Bank’s credibility when it comes to keeping inflation in check, Tucker draws a contrast with the pre-independence era. He argues that it was precisely that credibility of the independent BoE’s commitment to keeping inflation in check that “enabled us to provide such exceptional monetary support to help the recovery.”

Tucker adds:

It is unimaginable that, prior to Bank independence in 1997, any government would have been able to hold the policy rate at effectively zero and make a further monetary injection of £375bn without inflationary expectations – and government financing costs – spiralling out of control.

Still, he does concede that just having a 2% inflation target – that keen UK data watchers will know has been missed for 45 successive months now – is not a license to endless money printing.

Tucker again:

Credibility is not to be taken for granted. Even we cannot provide stimulus without limit, without a wary eye to inflation expectations.

And there is a further note of caution on that long-standing puzzle for the Bank, productivity:

Tucker says:

Let’s be clear: we do not understand why productivity has been so weak. And that means that we are highly uncertain about the amount of slack in the economy currently and prospectively; uncertain about the extent of the consequent downward pressure on domestically-generated inflation; and, thus, uncertain about the path of output and employment consistent with non-inflationary growth.

And where does all that leave policymaking?

Tucker sums it up: “Provide stimulus; pause to see whether inflation expectations remain anchored; if, but only if, they are and more stimulus is needed, provide it etc. A ‘probing’ approach.”

Another resignation in Germany… this time at the Pirate Party, where leader Bernd Schlömer has reportedly told party members that he won’t run again.

Not a surprise, given the Pirates captured just 2.2% of votes.

Updated

Paul Tucker, the Bank of England’s outgoing deputy governor with responsibility for financial stability, is giving a speech on monetary policy in London.

We’ll have full details shortly. In the meantime, here’s the newswire snaps:

24-Sep-2013 13:45 – BANK OF ENGLAND’S TUCKER SAYS BOE DOES NOT UNDERSTAND WHY UK PRODUCTIVITY SO WEAK, TAKING “PROBING” APPROACH TO POLICY

24-Sep-201313:45 – BOE’S TUCKER – MPC APPROACH HAS BEEN TO PROVIDE STIMULUS; PAUSE TO SEE IF INFLATION EXPECTATIONS STAY ANCHORED; IF, THEY ARE AND MORE STIMULUS IS NEEDED, THEY PROVIDE IT

24-Sep-2013 13:45 – BOE’S TUCKER – IF RECOVERY DOES GAIN TRACTION, MPC WILL NEED TO AVOID MISPERCEPTIONS ABOUT LIKELY COURSE OF POLICY

24-Sep-2013 13:45 – BOE’S TUCKER – BY ADOPTING A PROBING APPROACH MPC CAN PROVIDE BROADLY THE RIGHT DEGREE OF STIMULUS WITHOUT DILUTING COMMITMENT TO PRICE STABILITY

24-Sep-2013 13:45 – BOE’S TUCKER – FORWARD GUIDANCE DOES NOT COMMIT MPC TO KEEPING POLICY LOOSE BEYOND THE POINT THAT WOULD BE PRUDENT

24-Sep-2013 13:45 – BOE’S TUCKER – AS DATA COMES IN, BOE UNEMPLOYMENT FORECASTS MORE LIKELY TO CHANGE THAN FORWARD GUIDANCE 

Speaking of Germany, finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble has warned that Angela Merkel’s next government (once formed) will not change its approach to Europe’s economic problems.

Schäuble told the “Leipziger Volkszeitung” newspaper that Merkel will continue to push for rigorous budgetary discipline across the eurozone.

Appeals for countries to be allowed to relax their deficit targets and borrow more to stimulate growth will not be granted, insisted Schäuble, adding:

I’m also in favor of more growth and more jobs

But I believe that only through budget consolidation and accompanying structural reforms can you get there.

At this stage, though, it’s not clear whether Schäuble will remain as finance minister in the next administration. It all depends on the coalition talks….

More here.

The fallout from Germany’s election continues. Jürgen Trittin, co-leader of the Green Party, has announced that he won’t run for the leadership again.

Trittin added that he and co-leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt would continue to hold “exploratory talks” with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

From Athens, our correspondent Helena Smith reports that today’s protests were “quite raucous”.

Photos from the scene show the usual array of anti-Troika slogans, calling for an end to Greece’s austerity programme.

As expected, today’s 48-hour strike has hit many public services. Associated Press flags up, though, that some local services kept running. Here’s AP’s early take:

Greek civil servants walked off the job Tuesday at the start of a 48-hour public sector strike, the second in as many weeks, to protest job cuts required for the country to continue receiving international rescue loans.

State school, tax office and hospital workers joined the strike, while ambulances services were to run with a reduced staff. Journalists joined in with a three-hour work stoppage, pulling any non-strike related news of the air.

But participation appeared low, with many services remaining open in central Athens, including post offices and some schools and tax offices.

Thousands of people marched peacefully, chanting anti-austerity slogans through the center of the capital and in the country’s second-largest city of Thessaloniki in the north.

Updated

Back in the markets, the Italian stock markets is the best performer this morning.

That’s after Spain’s Telefonica announced plans to take a bigger stake in Telecom Italia’s parent company.

Here’s the lunchtime prices:

David Madden, market analyst at IG, says traders are still pondering when the Federal Reserve might start to taper its bond-purchase scheme, and fretting about Germany.

He also flags up the comments from ECB senior policymakers today, and yesterday, about the possibility of another round of cheap loans for euro-area banks (see 11.07am for details)

The Federal Reserve is trying to keep investors in the dark as to what its next move will be. The decision to keep the bond-buying programme unchanged at $85 billion per month pushed equities higher, but speculation is mounting about what the next meeting will bring. As always, the Fed members are divided: James Bullard is hinting at tapering, while William Dudley isn’t convinced the US economy is strong enough yet.
Just as the Fed is looking to ease up on its stimulus package, the ECB stated it is on standby to pump cash into the banking system if required. Traders are becoming too dependent on stimulus packages, but they can provide a boost to equities in the short term.
Mineral extractors have lost the most ground today, due to softer commodity prices. Meanwhile, European equity traders are sitting on their hands while Angela Merkel puts together a new coalition government.

Back in Greece, one demonstrator is carrying a flag with a German slogan on it — clearly looking for an overseas audience (see below – it’s the blue banner in the background) .

It reads “Nein zu Spardiktaten und Nationalismus” or “no to austerity diktats and nationalism”

Here’s the full details of the OECD’s warning about the eurozone, from Reuters:

 The European common currency area remains “a considerable source of risk” even though the systemic risk from its debt crisis is scaling back, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s chief economist said on Tuesday.

The OECD’s Pier Carlo Padoan told a conference in Lisbon positive economic growth in the euro zone should return only in 2014, expecting growth to be still negative this year despite a recovery in many countries, including Portugal.

He said that while pursuing structural fiscal consolidation in 2014, euro zone countries should allow automatic stabilisers to work and focus on fighting high unemployment rates.

OECD chief: global economy is slowly recovering

Some quotes from the OECD’s chief economist, Pier Carlo Padoan, just flashed up on the Reuters screen.

He’s warning that the eurozone economy is still poses significant risks to the global economy, but also sees signs of recovery:.

11:15 – OECD CHIEF ECONOMIST SAYS GLOBAL ECONOMY SLOWLY EXITING RECESSION, BUT FAR FROM SUSTAINABLE GROWTH

11:16 – OECD CHIEF ECONOMIST SAYS EURO AREA “STILL REMAINS CONSIDERABLE SOURCE OF RISK” 24-Sep-2013

11:20 – OECD CHIEF ECONOMIST SEES EURO AREA ENTERING POSITIVE GROWTH IN 2014, 2013 STILL SEEN NEGATIVE 

11:22 – OECD CHIEF ECONOMIST SAYS GROWTH IS COMING BACK FOR MANY COUNTRIES INCLUDING PORTUGAL 

Greek photojournalist Nikolas Georgiou is tweeting some photos from today’s protests. Here’s a couple:

The European Central Bank could help the eurozone banking sector with a third injection of ultra-cheap loans, ECB governing council member Ewald Nowotny said this morning.

Speaking in Venice, Nowotny (who’s also the head of Austria’s central bank) said it was too early to consider stopping the ECB’s ‘non-standard’ stimulus measures.

Asked about the prospects of another Long Term Refinancing Operation (in which the ECB would offer huge quantities of low-priced loans to banks), Nowotny replied:

It is certainly important to show all that we have in the way of instruments, which are flexible.

The ECB offered almost a trillion euros to eurozone banks in two LTROs, at the end of 2011 and in early 2012. Yesterday, ECB president Mario Draghi told MEPs that a third LTRO was a possibility, if conditions required it.

Updated

Greek public sector workers have marched towards the country’s parliament in Athens, at the start the 48-hour strike that began this morning. Syntagma metro station has been temporarily closed.

The public sector ADEDY union has declared, as it’s said so many times before, that the protest is an attempt to push the government to change course.

We call on the workers … the self-employed, the unemployed, the pensioners, the youth and everyone affected by these policies to give their resounding presence.

But the Greek government is more worried about the Troika’s visit this week. There are murmurs from Athens that the debt inspectors are pushing for progress on privatisations, where Greece is already facing a €1bn shortfall this year.

Kathimerini explains:

During a meeting at TAIPED’s headquarters, the mission chiefs of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund called for more action so that this year’s revenue shortfall, amounting to 1 billion euros, can be covered in 2014.

At the troika’s focus were the privatizations of ports, water and sewage companies, and Hellenic Post. According to plans drawn up in January, these sell-off projects should have started in the second quarter of the year, while the aim now is for them to get started in the last quarter, given that the third will be over in a week’s time.

Another reason for optimism about this morning’s IFO surveyit’s the best reading of German business confidence since April 2012.

Here’s AP’s take:

A closely watched index of German business optimism rose for the fifth month in a row in September, reflecting the improved prospects for Europe’s largest economy.

The IFO institute’s index edged up to 107.7 points from 107.6 in August. Market analysts had expected it to rise slightly more, to 108.0

The index is based on a survey of 7,000 companies about how they think the situation is now, and how they see things going in the coming months. It’s a leading indicator, meaning it suggests where the economy is going in the months ahead.

Germany’s economy expanded 0.7% in the second quarter, helping the 17-country euro currency union return to growth after six quarters of shrinking output.

Reminder — there’s analyst reaction here.

Updated

UK mortgage approvals at highest since December 2009

Just in: UK mortgage approvals have hit their highest level since December 2009, in another sign of a revival (some would say a boom) in Britain’s housing market.

A total of 38,228 loans were approved in August, up from 37,428 in July. That’s nearly a 26% jump on a year ago, according to the British Bankers Association.

Last week, chancellor George Osborne insisted that Britain isn’t gripped by a housing boom. But clearly the market has been revived by signs of economic recovery, and by Osborne’s Help To Buy scheme.

Prices are particularly rampant in the UK capital. As the FT’s Alphaville site points out, the average house price increase over the last 12 months (£38,729) is bigger than the average net income of a London household (£38,688).

Houses beating households, London edition

Those income figures include people who can’t afford to get on the housing ladder, of course:

Updated

IFO: What the experts say

Here’s that reaction to the news that Germany’s IFO business conditions index rose this month, if only marginally (see last post).

Analysts broadly agree that Germany is on the road to recovery, particularly as firms are more optimistic about future prospects.

However, there’s also a little bit of concern that the current conditions index fell (from 112 to 111.4), showing that firms are finding life a little harder.

I’ve taken the quotes off the Reuters terminal:

Thomas Gitzel, VP Bank:

“The somewhat worse conditions index reading is offset by the improved expectations index. Everything is pointing to a faster pace of growth for Germany in the coming months. But what is especially pleasing is that the improved indicators in Germany are based on a more positive international climate. These include improved prospects for the stricken euro zone countries, the recovery in the U.S. economy and the brightening situation in China.”"This leads us to conclude that the current upward movement can be seen sustainable.”

Ralf Umlauf, Helaba:

This is good news. The German economy is gaining speed and growth in the third quarter should again be robust. It’s a little disappointing that the rise in the business climate is only due to higher expectations. The European Cental Bank is likely to feel confirmed in its wait-and-see stance. On the political side, it’s now important to form a government able to act in order to prevent potential strain on the mood from a cliffhanger.

Christine Volk, KfW

German growth is on course for recovery, with business expectations brightening. Europe, as Germany’s most important export market, is beginning to stabilise after a very long lean period and Germany is benefiting from that. Growth in 2014 could even reach 2 percent.

We are less optimistic about Europe. There is a lack of growth stimulus and the debt sustainability of some countries is still in doubt. Here there is potential for disappointment.

Ben May, Capital Economics

The further rise in German Ifo business sentiment confirms that the economy is recovering, but we continue to expect growth to be reasonably sluggish. The rise in the headline business climate indicator was a touch smaller than the consensus forecast, but it left the index at its highest level since April 2012.

Updated

German business climate improves, but misses forecasts

German firms have reported that the business climate improved slightly in September, but they’re not as upbeat about the situation today as economists had expected.

That’s the top line from the monthly IFO survey, which was released a few minutes ago.

The IFO German Business Climate index came in at 107.7 in September – up from 107.6 in August, but lower than the 108.2 which the City had expected.

The Current Conditions index missed expectations, at 111.4 versus a consensus of 112.5. That’s also a fall compared with August’s reading of 112.0.

And IFO’s Future Expectations index came in at 104.2, just above the 104.0 that was pencilled in.

So, a mixed picture in Europe’s largest economy.

A year ago, the IFO business climate index was just 101.4 — so today’s 107.7 does show how the situation’s improved now Germany has left recession. But the fact firms aren’t as confident about current conditions as expected may show that growth this quarter will be a little weaker than hoped (although still quite robust)

Reaction to follow….

Updated

The most interesting corporate story this morning involves Spain’s Telefonica and Telecom Italia, whose shares jumped 4% in early trading.

Last night, Telefonica announced that it would raise its stake in Telecom Italia’s parent company, Telco, to 66%, and then eventually to 70%. It’s a complicated deal (see here) , but the upshot is that Telefonica will have a rather tighter grip on its Italian rival.

And as mrwicket flags up in the comments, the Italian press see it as a Spanish takeover:

Morning all.

The Italian papers are leading with ‘Telecom Italia becomes Spanish’. The deal was announced at midnight but seems a little more complicated than it appears.

At another midnight meeting, in a hotel in Palermo that used to be owned by the Graviano brothers, the Democratic Party decided to withdraw its support of its Governor of Sicily, Rosario Crocetta. Eleven months after the historic victory which ended the centre-right/mafia domination of the island, they pulled the plug.
Crocetta is openly (and genuinely) anti-mafia and a grass has said a boss has ordered his killing.

European stock markets have inched higher this morning, as traders await developments in Germany, or more clarity over when the Federal Reserve will start to slow its money-printing stimulus.

  • FTSE 100: up 12 points at 6569, +0.2%
  • German DAX: up 27 points at 8663, +0.3%
  • French CAC: up 18 points at 4190, +0.4%
  • Spanish IBEX: up 13 points at 9122, +0.14%
  • Italian FTSE MIB: up 48 points at 17962, +0.25%

Today’s public sector walkout in Greece is the second 48-hour strike in as many weeks.

It’s expected to hit schools and hospitals, and is timed to coincide with the Troika’s visit to Athens. As before, the unions are protesting about the government’s ‘mobility scheme’, part of the drive to cut thousands of public sector jobs.

The private sector GSEE union has called a four hour stoppage, from 11am local time (9am BST) – so it’ll be joining a protest rally in Athens.

While workers march through the streets, officials from the IMF, ECB and EU will be taking a close look at Greece’s budget for 2014. Greece’s Kathimerini newspaper reckons the Troika don’t share the Athens government’s optimism:

High-ranking Finance Ministry sources said that while the representatives of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund agree that Greece will produce a primary surplus at the end of the year, they think it will be minimal. The troika is also skeptical about Greek projections for a primary surplus of 1.5 percent of GDP at the end of next year.

It is thought that one of the reasons Greece’s lenders are downplaying the possibility of Athens producing a sizable surplus is that they are alarmed by the debate in Greece about how this amount will be allocated and whether social spending could be increased.

With regard to the 2014 budget, the troika still has doubts about the effectiveness, in terms of revenue raising, of the unified property tax. Next year will be the first time the levy, which combines several property taxes into one, is applied.

Jürgen Baetz, AP’s man in Brussels, agrees that an alliance between Angela Merkel and the Greens looks increasingly unlikely.

Merkel’s coalition struggle

Looking at the German newspapers, Der Speigel has an interesting article about how Angela Merkel will find it difficult to reach a deal with the Green party, the only plausible alternative to a Grand Coalition with the Social Democrats.

It explains that some of Merkel’s advisors would prefer a Black-Green alliance, rather than a Black-Red deal with the SPD. But Horst Seehofer, party chief, is strongly opposed to a deal [Here's Spiegel's piece (in German)].

Seehofer told reporters last night that:

I have not heard anyone today calling on me to talk to the Greens.

Which leaves the SPD. But they remain nervous of another alliance with Merkel, having been burned by their first partnership eight years ago. That led to them posting their worst election results since the second world war in 2009.

Having seen history repeat itself last weekend when the Free Democrats were given the order of the boot from the Bundestag, the SPD may not want to risk it again.

As Bloomberg puts it:

The SPD, the second-place finishers in the Sept. 22 vote, may be reluctant to try again, picking up what its chairman suggested yesterday was a poisoned chalice.

The SPD won’t stand in line or make an application after Merkel ruined her current coalition partner,” Sigmar Gabriel told reporters yesterday in Berlin.

Updated

Caution over German coalition talks

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

Uncertainty abounds today, as Europe hunkers down to await progress on Germany’s coalition talks and Greece continues to told talks with its lenders in an atmosphere of tension and strife.

Ongoing confusion over the US Federal Reserve’s plans to slow its bond-buying stimulus programme (maybe next month? Maybe not until 2014?) are also casting a shadow over Europe, just when we’d hoped for some real clarity and progress.

As Michael Hewson of CMC Markets puts it:

If investors had been hoping that the latest Fed meeting and the result of the German elections would help bring much needed clarity to the uncertainty that has bedevilled markets for weeks now, the events of the last few days have soon dispelled that notion with the result that the current state of affairs is becoming quickly like the proverbial itch that you just can’t scratch.

This has inevitably meant that investors have become much less inclined to take on risk and has seen them start to once again err on the side of caution, pulling stocks down from recent all-time highs.

As we covered yesterday, the German coalition talks are going to be a long grind. Angela Merkel reached out to the Social Democrats yesterday, but their leadership group aren’t expected to meet until Friday.

This process could take several weeks, as the SPD is sure to drive as hard a bargain as it can in return for supporting Merkel’s CDU party

We’ll be watching for any developments in Germany through the day.

We’ll get another insight into the state of the German economy this morning, with the release of the monthly IFO survey. Due at 9am BST, it will show how confident businesses are about current conditions, and future prospects.

While in Greece, public sector unions have called another anti-austerity strike for today — with the usual protests in the streets of Athens.

There’s also a platoon of central bank officials holding speeches today — including no fewer than five members of the European Central Bank’s governing council. That’s Ewald Nowotny, Yves Mersch, Jorg Asmussen, Vitor Constancio and Benoit Coeure.

Two members of the Fed’s governing council are also due to speak later today – Sandra Pianalto and Ester George.

Updated

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Polling data shows that Sunday’s German elections will be close, and could determine eurozone economic policy for the next stage of the crisis. Tight fight expected. Latest polling shows election is neck-and-neck. Grand coalition probably the most likely option…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Markets await German elections; India surprises with interest rate rise – live” was written by Graeme Wearden (earlier) and Nick Fletcher (now), for theguardian.com on Friday 20th September 2013 16.11 UTC

Here’s some Friday night ratings action:

On Malta Fitch said:

There has been significant fiscal slippage. Malta’s general government deficit was 3.3% of GDP in 2012, well above both the government’s target (2.2%) and Fitch’s September 2012 forecast (2.6% of GDP). This slippage has carried over to 2013, when Fitch forecasts a deficit of 3.6% of GDP, compared with 2.7% in the original 2013 budget. The European Commission has re-opened the excessive deficit procedure (EDP) against Malta, with the deadline for correcting the excessive deficit set for 2014. In its previous rating review (September 2012), Fitch identified material fiscal slippage in 2012 as a negative rating trigger.

And on Croatia being cut to junk:

Croatia’s fiscal outlook has deteriorated since Fitch’s previous sovereign rating review in November 2012. The agency has revised up its forecast for this year’s general government deficit to 4.7% in 2013 from 3.9%, while general government debt/GDP is now expected to peak at 66% of GDP in 2016, up from our previous forecast of 62%.

A structurally weak growth outlook has impaired the prospects for fiscal consolidation and the attainment of public debt sustainability.

A look at the possible problems facing Angela Merkel should she win the German election this weekend, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal. A taster below with the full story here:

Angela Merkel has become Europe’s most popular leader by telling Germans they don’t need to change, and by shielding them from much of Europe’s debt-crisis pain at the same time.

But as Ms. Merkel heads into a likely third term as Germany’s chancellor, there are increasing calls from the business community, which she has counted among her most loyal supporters, and others for her to move more quickly to confront simmering domestic problems that they worry will eventually endanger German prosperity.

The time to fix the problems—energy costs, worn-out roads and gaps in education among them—is now, they say, while the economy is healthy.

In the corporate world, Vodafone has received clearance from the European Commission for its takeover of Kabel Deutschland, and with that final hurdle passed, the deal is expected to be completed on 14 October.

Eurozone consumer confidence rose to a two year high in September, according to new figures from the European Commission, but is still in negative territory.

The index rose to -14.9 from -15.6 in August, compared to expectations of a figure of around -15. The news that strong German and French growth had helped pull the eurozone out of recession clearly helped sentiment, although the recovery remains fragile, as evidenced by Italy cutting its growth forecasts earlier today. Annalisa Piazza at Newedge Strategy said:

Consumer confidence is expected to have supported by the relative good news on the development of the EMU economy (that has finally emerged from a 6-quarter recession). News that the ECB is willing to maintain the current accommodative policy might have also played a role as households see reduced risks to their disposable income in the future. On the other hand, the still high unemployment rate and geopolitical uncertainties are likely to have put a lid on a more pronounced uptick in September.

Dow Jones opens lower after Fed taper comments

Wall Street has opened lower, not surprisingly given Fed official James Bullard’s comments that tapering might begin in October. The Fed gave markets at boost following Wednesday’s surprise decision by the US central bank to maintain its $85bn a month bond buying programme.

But after Bullard’s hint, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 22 points or 0.14% in early trading. However the Nasdaq had edged higher, up 0.15%, helped by a near 3% rise in Apple shares on the day queues form for the tech giant’s latest iPhones.

More German polling figures, showing the SPD and AfD edging up:

Updated

Across the Atlantic, observers are still trying to get their heads around Ben Bernanke’s decision on Wednesday not to start scaling back the US Federal Reserve’s $85bn a month bond buying programme.

Most economists had expected a move to wean the markets off the quantitative easing fix this month, but Bernanke pointed to the US economy still being too fragile.

But today Fed official James Bullard suggested to Bloomberg that the so-called tapering might now start in October. So we have all the “will-they-won’t-they” speculation to look forward to for another few weeks yet.

Updated

Budget airline Ryanair has promised to mend its ways, after being rebuked about its “abrupt” culture by shareholders today.

Reuters writes:

Ryanair, Europe’s biggest budget airline, has promised to transform its “abrupt culture” in a bid to win customers from costlier rivals, admitting for the first time that a reputation for treating its passengers badly might have become a problem.

The Irish firm, this week voted the worst of the 100 biggest brands serving the British market by readers of consumer magazine Which?, said on Friday it would become more lenient on fining customers over bag sizes and overhaul the way it communicates.

“We should try to eliminate things that unnecessarily piss people off,” chief executive Michael O’Leary told the company’s annual general meeting, after several shareholders complained about the impact of customer service on sales.

That’s the spirit.

More here: Ryanair must stop ‘unnecessarily pissing people off’, says O’Leary

And on that note, I’m going to fly home. Nick Fletcher has the controls. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Maybe see you online on Sunday night for the election excitement? Our foreign team will be all over it, and I’ll be on Twitter as @graemewearden as usual.

Updated

Forsa: German election is neck-and-neck

New polling data from Germany has just been released, showing that Sunday’s election is neck-and-neck with neither side on track for a clear majority.

The poll from Forsa found that the current CDU/CSU-FDP coalition would win 45% of the vote, as would their main rivals. Another key point, the eurosceptics Alternative For Germany would not hit the 5% threshold.

  • CDU/CSU 40%.
  • SPD 26%. 
  • Greens 10%.
  • LINKE 9%. 
  • FDP 5%
  • AfD 4%
  • Pirates 2%

I didn’t mention earlier, but the SDP has ruled out forming a government with the more left-wing Linke party, given its views on foreign affairs and its opposition to NATO. That could change in the heat of coalition talks, of course.

Today’s UK public finance figures mean George Osborne is on track to hit his fiscal targets for this year.

My colleague Katie Allen explains all:

A drop in government spending helped cut Britain’s borrowing last month, prompting economists to forecast that the chancellor is on track to meet his fiscal target for this year.

Borrowing for the last financial year as a whole was also revised down slightly by the Office for National Statistics as it published data on the public finances.

As mentioned earlier, Britain ran a deficit of £13.2bn in August – smaller than last year’s £14.4bn.

Katie continues:

The government’s progress on cutting Britain’s deficit – the gap between the government’s income and spending – was described as “painfully slow” by one business group. But analysts said the public finances appeared to be on an improving trend.

More here: Osborne on track to meet fiscal target as UK public borrowing falls

In the City, the Foxton’s estate agent chain continues to enjoy a stellar first day on the stock market. Its shares are up 20% this morning, at 277p from the 230p it floated at.

The FT says it shows “a recovery in both share offerings and the residential property market in the UK”.

Joshua Raymond, chief marketing strategist of Cityindex.co.uk, calls it a “hugely impressive” debut, and deliciously timed, too.

With London house prices shooting in the midst of a pricing bubble thanks in part to the Help to Buy Scheme, investors are trying to gain exposure to firms that directly benefit from this and as such the Foxtons IPO could not have been better timed in terms of its attractiveness.

Or as one fund manager puts it:

Updated

Thanks to BigBlue80 for flagging up the polling data which suggests Angela Merkel’s current CDU-CSU/FDP coalition would not get enough votes to return to power.

In the past, the most reliable of the large pollsters was the Institut für Demoskopie (IfD) Allensbach

They predict the following:
CDU/CSU 39,0%
SPD 26,0%
Grüne 11,0%
Linke 9,0%
FDP 6,0%
AfD 3,5%
Piraten 2,0%
Sonstige 3,5%

I.e. 45% for the current CDU/FDP coalition and 46% for the three major left parties.
It’s quite certain that Merkel stays chancellor although I would not completely discount the option of a SPD-Left-Green coalition. Which sounds like change but would mainly lead to too much instability to get anything done.

AfD might only influence politics in the sense that Merkel will have to watch her right-flank in the next few years. While these one-trick ponies usually don’t last long, they would have 4 years to embarass Germany abroad.

Updated

Speaking of eurosceptics….

Italy cuts growth targets

The Italian government has bowed to the inevitable today, tearing up its growth targets and admitting that its budget deficit is heading over target.

Enrico Letta’s government cut its forecast for 2013 to a contraction of -1.7%, down from -1.3% before. In 2014, it expects growth of 1%, down from 1.3%.

Both forecasts remain more optimistic than the IMF’s own targets — the Fund expects a 1.8% contraction in 2013 and a 0.7% expansion in 2014.

That difference could matter — on Letta’s calculations, the Italian deficit is on track to hit 3.1% this year. That’s over the EU’s target, and econony minister Fabrizio Saccomanni told reporters that it will be “corrected quickly”.

Sounds like the EU are putting pressure over the deficit too:

Saccomanni also predicted that Italy’s two-year recession will end soon, with GDP flat this quarter and then rising in the last three months of this year.

Updated

Tony Connelly, Europe Editor for RTE News, reports that the eurosceptic Alternative für Deutschland party are in good spirits ahead of Sunday’s election.

Party loyalists are confident they’ll win enough support to claim seats in the Bundestag. They’re also looking ahead to next year’s European elections.

Emma Tunney, an intern with Open Europe, attended one of Angela Merkel’s campaign rallies this week, and writes that Europe was only raised late in the chancellor’s speech:

Here her stance was clear – Germany must hold the course. Germany’s continued commitment to help its friends is necessary, that said she was quick to add that Germany had every right to expect those receiving assistance make meaningful changes to their financial systems.

Her assertion of a CDU rejection of the possibility of mutualizing European debt was well received, and was perhaps the most definitive statement on what we could expect should she become Chancellor once again.

Parish notice: my colleagues on the foreign desk have been tracking the twists and turns of the German general election in their own blog: German Elections Blog 2013.

Updated

From Berlin, my colleague Philip Oltermann flags up that the unfolding story of how US intelligence have been accessing Europe’s electronic communications was raised by Peer Steinbrück yesterday,

The NSA affair became a German election issue on Thursday when Social Democrat candidate Peer Steinbrück accused Angela Merkel of “negligent” treatment of the issue.

He said the revelations of US internet surveillance represented a “far-reaching interference with our basic democratic rights and personal self-determination”, and that Merkel had failed to “protect German citizens’ freedoms and interests”.

More here: Peer Steinbrück accuses Angela Merkel of negligence over NSA revelations

Electionista has crunched the recent polling data and concluded that Angela Merkel’s CDU-CSU/FDP coalition has just a 50.5% chance of winning a majority on Sunday:

On that point….

Updated

AP: Tight fight in Germany

Here AP’s latest dispatch from the German political frontline. It explains how the Free Democrat party are battling to hit the crucial 5% mark to get into the Bundestag.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and her struggling coalition partners were fighting over votes Friday in the final stretch of campaigning for Germany’s election as polls pointed to a tight outcome.

Merkel is heavily favored to emerge from Sunday’s election with a third term, but her hopes of continuing the current coalition of her conservatives and the pro-market Free Democrats are in the balance.

A ZDF television poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday showed a statistically insignificant one-point lead for the alliance over the combined opposition in line with other recent surveys showing a dead heat.

The Free Democrats are pushing hard for Merkel supporters’ votes after being ejected from Bavaria’s state legislature in a regional vote last weekend. In national polls, they’re hovering around the 5 percent support needed to keep their seats in Parliament.

Merkel and her conservative Union bloc are pushing back, saying they have no votes to give away. If the coalition loses its majority, the likeliest outcome would be a “grand coalition” between Merkel’s party and the center-left Social Democrats and the conservatives want to be as strong as possible.

“I would advise us all in the final hours before the election to fight our political opponents and not argue over each other’s votes,” Bavarian governor Horst Seehofer, who led Merkel’s conservative bloc to victory there, told the daily Die Welt.

The Free Democrats have “potential of well over 5 percent,” he was quoted as saying. They won nearly 15% at the last election.

“I think it’s a very strange understanding of democracy when the impression is raised that citizens’ votes belong to the chancellor,” the Free Democrats’ general secretary, Patrick Doering, shot back on n-tv television.

ZDF’s poll of 1,369 people gave Merkel’s conservatives 40 percent support and the Free Democrats 5.5%. Challenger Peer Steinbrueck’s Social Democrats polled 27%, their Green allies 9% and the hard-line Left Party with which the center-left parties say they won’t work 8.5%.

The poll showed a new anti-euro party, Alternative for Germany, at 4% not enough to win parliamentary seats. It gave a margin of error of plus or minus up to three percentage points.

But do note the caveat from earlier – some analysts think AfD are doing better than that…..

Looking back at the German election… here’s a handy graphic showing how last night’s polling data would translate into seats in the Bundestag:

The CDU’s 266 seats,plus the FDP’s 37, would give the current coalition a small majority –which could make for some tight votes on future eurozone policy.

Updated

On a lighter note, there’s a correction in the Financial Times today that deserves a wide audience (with many thanks to Luke Baker of Reuters)

Updated

Britain’s public finances were a little better than expected in August. The monthly deficit came in at £13.157bn, compared with estimates of around £13.3bn. Government revenues rose by 1.4%, and spending dipped by 2.2%.

So far this year, the UK had borrowed £46.8bn to balance the books, compared to £50.5bn for the first eight months of 2012. More to follow.

Updated

Corporate news

In the UK business world, the Office for Fair Trading has launched an investigation into possible price fixing on sports bras.

More here: OFT probes sports bra price fixing

And everyone’s favourite (?!) estate agent, Foxtons, has launched on the London stock market. Floated at 230p a share (valuing the firm at nearly £650m), its shares have leapt to 280p. Even London house prices aren’t going up that fast.

More here: Foxtons share price soars on debut

Adidas profits warning pushes DAX down

European stock markets are mostly lower today, but there’s not much afoot.

The initial rally sparked by the Federal Reserve’s decision on Wednesday not to taper its stimulus package has worn off, and traders appear to be hunkering down ahead of the German election.

The German stock market has been pulled down by a profit warning from Adidas last night.

Adidas blamed adverse currency effects, a distribution problem in Russia and poor trading at its golf business.

• FTSE 100: down 6 points at 6618, down 0.1%

German DAX: down 9 points at 8681, down 0.12%

French CAC: down 5 points at 4200,-0.12%

Italian FTSE MIB: down 1 point at 18056, – 0.01%

Spanish IBEX: up 11 points at 9,165, +0.13%

Updated

Here’s some early reaction to India’s surprise interest rate decision, which I’ve taken from Reuters.

Anjali Verma, chief economist at PhillipCapital:

Hiking the repo rate was unexpected. The governor is clearly worried about inflation. He is saying the improved international conditions will take care of the current account deficit funding and his focus will shift to fiscal deficit and inflation, which were taking a backseat.

Anubhuti Sahay, economist at Standard Chartered:

The statement clearly has a strong hawkish bias as it states that with a relatively more stable exchange rate, monetary policy formulation will be determined once again by internal determinants viz inflation and fiscal deficit.

Abheek Barua, chief economist at HDFC Bank:

The long-term signal is that the RBI is still concerned with inflation.

Easing short end of the curve, which it has done by cutting the MSF (marginal standing facility), reducing CRR requirements and etc. is a strong pro-growth signal. I think it (MSF) might be reduced even further.

India battles inflation with surprise rate hike

India’s new central bank governor Raghuram Rajan made a splashy debut in the monetary policy world this morning.

The Reserve Bank of India surprised the markets by announcing a quarter-point rise in India’s headline interest rate, from 7.25% to 7.5%.

However, the RBI also announced that it will unwind some of the “exceptional measures” put in place to support the Indian Rupee, after it slumped to record lows against the US dollar this summer.

Rajan’s message with today’s rate hike is that the RBI will make fighting India’s inflation problem its top priority. The cost of living is rising at 6.1% in India.

As Rajan put it in today’s statement:

Bringing down inflation to more tolerable levels warrants raising the repo rate by 25 basis points immediately.

The RBI raised rates despite recognising that the Indian economy is weakening, with “continuing sluggishness in industrial activity and service.”

Clearly, Rajan is showing that he’s taking price stability as his mantra. The minutes point out that that the RBI has struggled with this in the past:

What is equally worrisome is that inflation at the retail level, measured by the CPI, has been high for a number of years, entrenching inflation expectations at elevated levels and eroding consumer and business confidence. Although better prospects of a robust kharif harvest will lead to some moderation in CPI inflation, there is no room for complacency.

A rate hike usually pushes currencies up. However, the rupee promptly dived as the news hit the wires, as traders realised that the RBI was also cutting some of the exceptional measures introduced to support its currency. The rupee fell from 61.7 to the dollar to as low as 62.55.

Stocks also fell on the Indian stock market — with the Sensex sliding over 2.1% so far today.

* – for the record, the RBI trimmed its marginal standing facility rate by 75 basis points from 10.25 to 9.5 per cent, and cut the minimum proportion of the cash reserve ratio that banks must maintain at the RBI from 99 per cent to 95 per cent.

Updated

Interest in the German election extends to the Asian markets, reports IG’s man in Melbourne, Chris Weston.

There’s no panic, but investors are calculating how the result will affect eurozone crisis policy. He writes:

The market sees the election really going one of two ways; either the status quo is resumed (i.e. CDU, CSU and FDP remain in power) or perhaps a grand coalition with the SPD party is put together after a short period of negotiations.

Given the SPD’s previous positive stance on backing a redemption fund, backed by Eurobonds, if they did help govern in future we could see a spike in EUR/USD on the prospect of a more euro-friendly government in place. On the other hand if the AfD (right wing, anti-euro party) get over 5% of votes and thus gain representation in parliament, we could see EUR and US futures gap lower on Monday.

Eurozone concerns have had limited influence on price action of late, but the prospect of having the AfD party having representation in parliament could have implications on eurozone policy going forward. The first thing that springs to mind is Greece.

We know the Greeks have a funding problem; the IMF talked openly about it July; highlighting a €4.4bn funding gap in its current program for 2014 and €6.5bn in 2015.

Given all new loans have to be fully agreed on in the Bundestag (German lower house of parliament); AfD representation in parliament could cause disruptions and uncertainty here.

Updated

On the campaign trail….

Angela Merkel and Peer Steinbrück, the SPD’s candidate for the chancellorship, held election rallies last night in a late drive to win votes before Sunday’s election (see opening post)

Both politicians attracted a healthy turnout of supporters, as these photos show:

Updated

German election looms

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

Germany’s general election has loomed over the eurozone for most of 2013. Finally, it’s all-but upon us.

Germans head to the polls on Sunday in a crunch poll that will determine how Europe’s largest countryeconomy is governed for the next four years. There’s no doubt that Angela Merkel’s CDU-CSU party will win the most votes. But there’s real uncertainty over whether her coalition with the Free Democrats can be repeated, or whether we’ll see a grand coalition with left-leaning rivals.

Poll after poll this week have confirmed that it’s just too close to call (do make your predictions in the comments).

The latest survey, released last night by FGW, suggested that Merkel’s coalition would just win enough votes to take power again.

It put CDU at 40%, the Social Democrats at 27%, FDP at 5.5%, Linke at 8.5%, the Greens at 9%, and then the eurosceptic Alternative for Deutscheland at 4% (not enough to win seats).

So, that’s the CDU-FDP on 45.5%, and other major parties at 44.5%.

The key factor is that a party needs 5% of votes to actually get into the Bundestag. And the whisper in Germany (and in the comments section of this blog this week) is the AfD might be doing better than the pollsters believe.

If AfD clear the 5% mark, as some polls have suggested, then German politics will be dramatically shaken up.

Here’s what some respected euro journalists have been tweeting:

So, the eyes of Europe could be on Germany this weekend, and for sometime after if it’s an unclear result.

Traders in the City are already watching with interest, as CMC’s Michael Hewson writes:

It still remains uncertain as to what the electoral maths will be with respect to any new coalition government.

A rising Eurosceptic movement in Germany could well complicate things significantly after a poll by German newspaper Bild showed that the AfD party could well be on course for more than 5% of the vote in the election this weekend.

A move above this threshold would mean that the party would gain seats in the Bundestag and as such would mean that they would have much greater influence over policy as well as make the likelihood of a less stable coalition a real possibility as neither the CDU, or the SPD would have enough votes to form a government with any prospective coalition partners.

I’ll be tracking events through the day as usual. We’ve already had one piece of interesting news outside Europe — India’s central bank has surprised the markets by raising interest rates. More on that shortly…. 

Updated

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Investors cheer prospect of dovish replacement for Bernanke. Would Janet Yellen really be a dramatically different prospect to Summers? Noon market update: Euro shares at highest since 2008. Greek riot police use teargas as strikes begin…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Larry Summers’ withdrawal from Fed race pushes markets to five-year high – live” was written by Graeme Wearden, for theguardian.com on Monday 16th September 2013 11.53 UTC

The Bank of England is touring the UK, holding roadshows to promote its plan to replace Britain’s paper banknotes with plastic alternatives.

They’re in Gateshead today, having kicked off in the refined environs of Oxford on Friday – where my colleague Katie Allen watched events unfold.

She writes:

Stephen Barratt, an accountant from Oxford, is unimpressed. He rubs the polymer dummy between his fingers with a look of disgust.

“It’s the feel. I can see the practical advantages but paper is much nicer. I don’t like them personally … The fact paper notes age is actually quite nice,” he says.

More than 650 people handle the notes before the day is out. Questions range from the environmental impact to washability.

Justin Gunson, a 29-year-old magician, is keen to see how the notes handle as well as other possible professional challenges. “As a magician you want to know if you can mark them, if you can use fake ones.”

The Bank has more than a dozen roadshows planned (unless local conjurers relieve them of the prototypes first).

More here: British shoppers get to grips with Bank of England’s polymer notes

Updated

Back to Greece, and Greek unions say that more than 40,000 civil servants took part in the central Athens demonstration today.

Participation in strike action is reckoned to be 95% - a very high figure given that strikers lose their salaries when they walk off the job.

Angeliki Fatourou of the OLME union (which represents workers in education) told our correspondent Helena Smith that:

It’s been a huge success.

And indicative of what the government and troika can expect in the coming weeks and months ahead.

As flagged up earlier, Greece’s Troika of international lenders return to Athens next week…..

Market update: European share at five-year high

A quick markets update. European stock markets remain buoyant following Larry Summers’ decision to withdraw from the race to succeed Ben Bernanke as head of the Federal Reserve.

• FTSEurofirst 300: up 9.5 points at 1259, a new five-year high 

• FTSE 100: up 59 points at 6643, a five-week high

• German DAX: up 103 points at 8613, an all-time high

• French CAC: up 32 points at 4146, highest since February 2011

Some financial analysts reckon that the market reaction is overblown. After all, Ben Bernanke has already outlined the conditions under which the Fed would slow its stimulus programme. Would Janet Yellen really be a dramatically different prospect to Summers?

Stephen Lewis of Monument Securities thinks not.

Here’s his reasoning:

The markets should not assume that other candidates to lead the Fed will deviate far from the timetable for ‘tapering’ QE3 that Mr Bernanke has outlined. Ms Yellen, whose chances of taking the Chairmanship will appear to have improved with Prof Summers’ withdrawal, may be of a generally ‘dovish’ disposition.

But she has not dissented from the Bernanke schedule nor has she released any public comment recently about economic growth or unemployment that suggests she might look with favour on a more accommodative policy-course than the FOMC consensus currently approves.

There remains the mystery of why President Obama has appeared reluctant to nominate Yellen already. Lewis adds:

Dark rumours of personal frictions during the Clinton Administration abound but, politically, a Yellen appointment would probably be the easiest course for the President to pursue. He could at least count on most of the Democrats in the Senate being on his side.

Updated

Helena Smith: Anger on the streets of Athens

Over in Greece our correspondent Helena Smith reports that passions are on the rise as striking workers, starting with teachers, kick off a week of industrial action in the debt-stricken country.

She also confirms that several people were taken to hospital after riot police used tear gas this morning.

 After a slow-motion summer, Greek unions are back in action organising protests and walk-outs with a vengeance.

Outrage over government plans to pare back the bloated public sector boiled over at 7 AM this morning when a week of strikes got off the ground with police firing tear gas at demonstrating school guards amassed outside the administrative reform ministry.

Three protestors were subsequently rushed to hospital suffering respiratory problems. The decision of authorities to resort to using toxic chemicals so early in the day appears only to have reinforced the resolve of unions in both the public and private sector to step up action against the reforms now being asked of Greece by the EU and IMF.

“It’s just made us more mad,” said Angeliki Fatourou, a leading member of the secondary school teachers union OLME which kicked off five-day rolling strikes today. “Please note that we will not rest easily. This will be the mother of strikes and teachers will lead the way.”

As Helena writes, thousands of teachers, from both secondary and primary sectors, are marching towards the parliament building in Syntagma square in a massive display of opposition over reforms that will see some 12,500 civil servants being transferred to a mobility scheme, widely seen as shorthand for dismissal, by the end of the year.

“The cuts really are the last straw,” said Fatourou insisting that most public schools no longer had enough money to pay heating, electricity or water bills.

ADEDY, the umbrella group representing civil servants nationwide, has also called on its 42 federations to go on strike later this week.

The 48-hour walkout, Wednesday and Thursday, comes ahead of crucial meetings Friday and Saturday that will decide whether industrial action will continue across the public sector. “At the moment different sectors are backing the idea of strike action with varying degrees of intensity,” ADEDY’s Tania Karayiannis told me this morning. “But that is expected to change. Greeks in both the public and private sector have been pushed to the absolute brink. This will be a very hot week that should be seen as a prelude to a very hot winter,” she said.

Visiting inspectors representing Greece’s international creditors will almost certainly be given a baptism of fire when they arrived in Athens to begin what will be the most crucial review, yet, of the Greek economy next Monday.

This video clip appears to show those reported clashes outside Greece’s Ministry of Administrative Reforms between school guards and riot police this morning (see 10.56am onwards):

That’s via the Keep Talking Greece website, which reports that demonstrators held a sit-down protest in the middle of the road outside the ministry, prompting riot police to move them.

And here’s a photo of teachers on strike in Crete:

Updated

Greek schoolteachers have gathered in force in the city of Thessaloniki for today’s walkout, as these tweets from local resident Antonis Gazakis show:

That’s via university lecturer Spyros Gkelis. He also flags up that there is reportedly a high turnout across the country from Greece’s school teachers for today’s strike.

Updated

Greek strikers ‘clash with riot police’ as week of industrial action begins

Over in Greece, a week of industrial action has begun with schoolteachers downing tools, and reports of clashes between school guards and riot police in Athens.

Greek secondary school teachers launched a five-day strike this morning, in protest at the government’s plans to cut thousands of jobs, and transfer staff to its unpopular ‘mobility scheme’ [from where employees can be forced to take a new job or be laid off].

It’s likely to be the first in a series of ‘rolling’ strikes.

According to local reports, Greek police fired teargas to disperse school guards who tried to enter the Administrative Reforms ministry in central Athens this morning, as the walkout got underway.

One police official told Reuters:

About 60 to 70 school guards tried to enter the building to occupy it and were pushed back by police.

School guards are responsible for patroling educational premises, and also operate road crossings for pupils.

Here’s Associated Press’s early take:

Riot police have scuffled with striking school guards outside a ministry in central Athens, as labor unions gear up for a series of public sector strikes over job cuts.

Local media report Monday at least two demonstrators were transported to hospitals suffering from breathing problems after police used small amounts of pepper spray in an attempt to move protesters away from the Administrative Reform Ministry.

Greece’s government has pledged to ax thousands of public sector jobs in an effort to meet conditions of its international bailout. The country has been depending on rescue loans from the International Monetary Fund and other European countries that use the euro currency since May 2010.

Today’s walkout is the prelude to a major 48-hour walkout, starting on Wednesday, called by Greece’s main unions.

Updated

Janet Yellen is the odds-on favourite to succeed Ben Bernanke this morning. A shoe-in, really, at just 1-8 with Paddy Power (so you’d get £9 back for every £8 you risked.)

Tim Geithner, outgoing Treasury secretary, is an 8-1 shout, as is former Fed vice-chairman Donald Kohn.

Stanley Fischer, who just stepped down from running Israel’s central bank, is a 40-1 outsider.

More details here.

Larry Summers decision not to run for the Federal Reserve chair (see opening post onwards), is going to trigger a rally on Wall Street later today.

Traders are calling the Dow Jones industrial average up by over 1%, as US investors give the thumbs up to the prospect of a more dovish Fed chair (although we still don’t know who is going to actually replace Bernanke, of course)

European stocks remain at five-year highs, and the US dollar is still down around 0.5% on the currency markets.

Summers’ decision could give the US economy a small boost , tweets economic policy analyst Alan Tonelson:

Eurozone inflation fell to just 1.3% (annual basis) last month, data just released from Eurostat confirmed.

That’s a drop from July’s reading of 1.6% (for the consumer prices index), further away from the European Central Bank’s target of just below 2%. That shows there’s no pressure on the ECB to raise rates, or change its commitment to leave them at present levels, or lower, for an extended period.

The data confirmed that Greece remains in deflationary territory, with prices falling by 1.0% year-on year. Bulgaria (-0.7%) and Latvia (-0.1%) also showed the lowest rates.

The highest eurozone inflation figures were seen in Estonia (3.6%), the Netherlands (2.8%) and Romania (2.6%), with the UK also reporting inflation of 2.8% last month.

Updated

This may please Mario Draghi — as the ECB chief began his speech, Italy reported that its trade surplus has widened

Imports fell 0.3% year-on-year in July, while exports jumped by 3.0% compared with July 2012 – the first rise in exports in three months. This pushed the Italian trade surplus up to €5.948bn, up from €4.733bn a year ago.

In another welcome sign of rebalancing, exports to non-EU countries were up by 3.5% (full details here)

Draghi is also warning that eurozone governments must not slacken off the pace of reform – a familiar refrain for the ECB chief:

 Thanks to their consolidation efforts so far, the primary fiscal deficit for the euro area has fallen from 3.5% of GDP in 2009 to around 0.5% in 2012. This is projected to turn into a primary surplus from 2014 onwards.

This improvement in public finances has helped send a signal to investors that government debt levels will stabilise and then fall in the future. This has been crucial in reassuring markets about debt sustainability. But the average public debt level in the euro area is still very high, at around 95% of GDP. This means that consolidation efforts need to be maintained in the years to come.

Draghi: Europe’s ‘fragile’ recovery needs more help

Mario Draghi’s Berlin speech is now online at the ECB’s web site: click here

It’s called “Europe and the Euro – A Family Affair”*, and the key theme is that Europe needs growth to underpin its delicate recovery.

As Draghi puts it:

The recovery is only in its infancy. The economy remains fragile. And unemployment is still far too high.

Draghi is reminding his audience of German small business owners that the eurozone faced” difficult circumstances” a year ago, with “severe tensions in financial markets” as investors feared the break-up of the euro.

That threat has receded, he said, but Europe remains too weak:

My main message is that we have made significant progress on the first step, stabilising the euro area. But there is still work to do to transform this achievement into higher growth and employment. Strengthening the euro area through sustainable policies, higher competitiveness and stronger common institutions is therefore our priority for today.

The speech contained some familiar themes — unemployment remains too high, and banking union remains incomplete.

On competitiveness, Draghi actually hails the drop in wages in some eurozone countries:

One way to regain competitiveness quickly is to address the numerator in unit labour costs – nominal wages. Another, longer-term approach is to increase the denominator – to achieve higher productivity. In my view, in the euro area today we need both.

On the first count, there are already some encouraging signs of rebalancing in the euro area in terms of cost competitiveness. Thanks in part to the structural reforms introduced in several countries, relative costs are adjusting where they had become misaligned in the past.

• – presumably the title is a reference Sly and the Family Stone, following Mark Carney’s decision to name-check young UK singer-songwriter Jake Bugg last month.

Over in Berlin, European central bank president Mario Draghi has begun giving a speech – here’s the wire snaps off the Reuters terminal….

16-Sep-2013 09:00 – ECB’S DRAGHI – EURO ZONE ECONOMY REMAINS FRAGILE, UNEMPLOYMENT FAR TOO HIGH

16-Sep-2013 09:00 – ECB’S DRAGHI – GIVEN SUBDUED INFLATION OUTLOOK, EXPECT KEY INTEREST RATES TO REMAIN AT CURRENT OR LOWER LEVELS FOR EXTENDED PERIOD OF TIME

16-Sep-2013 09:00 – ECB’S DRAGHI – BANKING UNION SHOULD HELP SPEED UP THE REPAIR OF BANKS – THAT IS IF, AS I HOPE, WE END UP WITH A STRONG SINGLE RESOLUTION MECHANISM 

Updated

Kit Juckes of Société Générale dubs today’s market action the “Larry Rally”, and puts his finger firmly on the causes of the buoyant financial markets — easy money.

From his morning note to clients:

Five (long) years on from Lehman’s collapse, and while the global economy is still struggling to find its feet, financial markets are riding high. This morning’s catalyst may be Larry Summers’ decision to withdraw from consideration for the Fed Chairmanship, but the real driver is easy monetary policy. Of course.

June saw a huge market blood-letting as ‘tapering’ was priced in, and the period since then has seen outflows from emerging markets and bond funds slow, markets calm down.

The issue is how long the risk party can last as talk of tapering becomes reality and before the focus switches firmly to when and how fast the Federal Reserve actually tightens policy.

The Fed’s monetary policy committee meets on Wednesday night, so we might not have long to wait…..

Britain’s borrowing costs have dropped this morning, following Larry Summers’ decision.

The yield on 10-year gilts has dropped to 2.86% , from 2.91% on Friday night, as traders rush to buy UK debt (pushing up the price, and thus lowering the interest rate on the bond).

US Treasuries have also strengthened, driving down yields on America’s 10-year bonds by a chunky 8 basis points to 2.812%, from 2.9% on Friday.

The message from the markets is clear — they expect a less hawkish Fed chair than Summers….

Germany’s DAX index hit a new record high this morning — nudging 8,601 points in the opening minutes of trading.

Updated

European markets hit five-year high

The FTSeurofirst 300 index of Europe’s biggest companies has just hit a new five year high, driven by the prospect of the dovish Janet Yellen becoming the next Fed chair.

It has jumped 0.58% to 1,260.35, a level not seen since June 2008 — three months before the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

Here’s the details of the European markets this morning, following Asia’s rally (see 7.51am)

Mike van Dulken, head of research at Accendo Markets, explains that recent progress in Syria is also boosting the markets – along with the first election results from Germany (of which more shortly…..)

Investors are reacting positively to news that the more hawkish Larry Summers has withdrawn from the race to be the next Fed chair in Jan (not enough support from Obama’s Democrats), paving the way for the more accommodative vice-chair Janet Yellen.

Markets are not worried about tapering per se, rather the speed of it, seeing Yellen reduce bond buying more slowly and leave rates lower for longer.

Sentiment is also helped by news of deal between US & Russia over Syria’s chemical weapons surrender.

German Chancellor Merkel’s sister party won the Bavarian election which bodes well for her to keep her position in next week’s general election.

Updated

Summers end drives European markets higher

Europe’s stock markets are open, and the news that Larry Summers won’t be the next Fed chair is pushing shares higher.

The prospect of an “ even more dovish chairman at the helm of the world’s most pivotal central bank” than Ben Bernanke, as Chris Weston of IG puts it, is giving markets a lift.

The FTSE 100 jumped 1% at the start,and is now up 50 points at 6633.

Italy’s FTSE MIB has also gained 1%, with other indexes jumping at least 0.8%.

So why the rally? It’s all about Janet Yellen, the new favourite to replace Bernanke. As Weston explains, Yellen could potentially have quit the Fed altogether if Summers got the top job, depriving the Fed of one of its most dovish members:

Life with Larry Summers at the helm would have potentially been very different from life under Ben Bernanke; it’s these uncertainties that keep markets held back.

In theory if Larry Summers had got the job, we could easily have seen Janet Yellen step down from the Fed and return to academia, which would have had negative ramifications on the composition of the Fed in Q2 2014, with the board not just losing a key note dove, but also its last voting female. This has now changed, and while we know Donald Kohn has been interviewed, if Janet Yellen doesn’t get the job there could be an outcry given a large number of democrats and certainly market participants have been campaigning for her appointment.

Updated

Larry Summers’ withdrawal may be good news for investors who don’t want America’s stimulus programme to end, but it’s a blow to President Obama.

As our Washington bureau chief, Dan Roberts, explained last night:

Barack Obama’s hopes of a smooth transition of power at the US Federal Reserve were dealt a significant blow on Sunday night when Larry Summers unexpectedly pulled out of the running to replace Ben Bernanke when he stands down in January.

Summers, a former Treasury secretary under President Clinton, had been frontrunner to take charge of US monetary policy during a crucial phase in the economic recovery but is understood to have been deterred by the prospect of bumpy Senate confirmation hearings.

Despite an impeccable track record as an economist and policymaker, Summers remains widely associated with the period of laissez-faire economic policy-making that led up to the banking crash and his decision to step aside on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the crisis shows how raw the politics remain in Washington.

More here: Larry Summers withdraws name for Federal chairmanship

Updated

…while fastFT have swiftly rounded up the currency movements:

  • Malaysian ringgit: +1.42%
  • Indian rupee: +1.41%
  • Indonesian rupiah: +1.09%
  • Aussie dollar: +0.88%
  • Kiwi dollar: +0.71%
  • Thai Baht: +0.50%
  • Japanese yen +0.47%

Updated

Here’s a snapshot of the rally in Asia today: led by emerging markets (which have been buffeted in recent weeks by the prospect of the Fed ‘tapering’ its quantitative easing programme):

The agenda

It’s going to be a busy day, quite apart from the excitement over the Fed race.

Here’s an agenda:

• Mario Draghi gives speech in Berlin – from 10am CET (9am BST). Details

• Eurozone inflation data for August: 11am CET (10am BST)

• Troika begin review of Portugal’s bailout programme – all day

• Greek teachers strike over austerity cutbacks – all day

• Italian trade data – 10am CET (9am BST)

Markets to surge on Summers withdrawal

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

European stock markets are set to rally this morning following the surprise news last night that Larry Summers, former US Treasury secretary, has withdrawn from the race to become the next chairman of the US Federal Reserve.

The former US Treasury secretary threw in the towel yesterday, seemingly daunted by the prospect of a bruising fight with Congress.

The move throws the race to succeed Ben Bernanke wide open, with the Fed on the very brink of deciding whether to begin slowing its huge monetary stimulus programme. The new front-runner appears to be Janet Yellen, Fed vice-chair since 2010 – a popular choice with Democrats and many in the financial markets and the media.

As well as having helped guided Fed policy through the crisis, Yellen is credited with a rare knack of reading economic trends — including predicting in 2009 that the recovery would be “frustratingly slow”.

Economists and analysts believe Yellen is more likely than Summers to maintain a robust stimulus programme, meaning more easy money for Wall Street and the City.

Summers’ withdrawal has already hit the dollar, driving sterling to its highest level since January. The pound is up by 0.8 cents this morning, to $1.59.5.

Emerging markets have rallied overnight, with Thailand’s stock market up almost 3% and India up 1%.

European stocks are expected to surge too, while bond yields should probably slide — on the prospect of the Fed buying even more US debt than under Larry Summers.

IG is calling the FTSE 100 up 72 points at 6655, the DAX up 131 points at 8640, and the CAC up 57 points at 4171.

I’ll be tracking all the news through the day, as usual….

Updated

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