Archive for December, 2009
“Hungary’s potential economic growth should be 2 percentage points over the corresponding EU figure in order to ensure convergence”. Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai, speaking in London in October
Two contrasting pieces of news about Hungary’s economic plight have caught my eye over the last week. In the first place, and in an evident sign of the times, retail sales reportedly fell at their fastest annual rate in over ten years in October, whilst secondly, and more surprisingly, I learnt that Hungary’s economic-sentiment index rose to its highest level since October last year, when the gale force wind sent by the fall of Lehman Brothers engulfed the country. How can this be, I thought? These two pieces of information would, at least on the surface, seem to be pretty contractictory, with the former suggesting the deepest recession in living memory is getting even worse, while the latter seems to add backing to government claims that the worst is now behind them.
“Spain’s weaknesses over the developing crisis reflect mainly the reversal of the continuous domestic demand expansion of over a decade, which was associated with high indebtedness of the private sector, large external deficits and debt, an oversized housing sector compared with the euro area average and fast rising asset prices, notably of real estate assets.” European Commission assessment of Spain’s Response to the Excess Deficit Procedure, Brussels 11 November 2009.
“The latest services PMI data suggests that the Spanish economy remains on a downward trajectory. The fact that variables such as activity, new orders and employment all fell at sharper rates during November is real cause for concern, with the prospects for 2010 becoming increasingly gloomy. Businesses report that consumers remain cautious of making any major purchases, particularly those requiring credit. It appears that any economic recovery over the next twelve months will be gradual and drawn-out.” Andrew Harker, economist at Markit commenting on the November Spanish Services PMI survey.
According to Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero Spain’s government is firmly committed to reducing its fiscal deficit, and is intent on lowering it as requested by the EU Commission by 1.5% of GDP annually, until it finally brings it within the EU 3 per cent of gross domestic product limit by 2013 at the latest. What’s more he is quite explicit about how this is going to be possible: Spain is right now, and even as I write, on the verge of emerging from the long night of recession in whose grip it has been for the last several quarters. As such it will soon resume its old and normal path onwards down the highway of high speed growth. There is only one snag here: few external observers are prepared to share Mr Zapatero’s optimism.
Hypo Alpe Adria bank, the Austrian arm of the Bavarian bank Bayern LB, was nationalized on Monday for the symbolic price of three euros. This unexpected action brought to the world’s attention something which has been obvious to some of us for a very long time: namely that all is not well with Austria’s banking system, and it is not well for one very simple reason – over-exposure to Central and East European Markets. Of course, when some of us first started pointing the problem out, we were roundly rebuked from all quarters, what a ridiculous idea! Izabella Kaminska had a reasonable review of how the arguments were being marshalled back in January here, while Paul Krugman attracted the wrath of all Austria back in April by, as this blogger puts it, stating the obvious.
In a recent post on the FT Money Supply Blog the ever perceptive Frank Atkins made the following, very interesting, observation which, I think, goes a long way towards helping us all understand what exactly the thinking is which lies behind the ECB’s current strategy for its handling of the Eurozone economy.
One of the subtleties of yesterday’s complex package from the European Central Bank was that it attempted to re-assert the principle of “separation”. When the financial storm broke in August 2007, the ECB insisted, doggedly, that emergency financial market liquidity injections were not related to its monetary policy. That remained firmly aimed at controlling inflation and still very much determined the level at which it set the main policy interest rate. Indeed, in July last year the ECB famously raised the interest rate to 4.25 per cent because inflation appeared to be getting out of control.
The separation that is being talked about here is not then a matrimonial one, nor is it a Montesquieu type notion of a necessary and sufficient separation of powers between Brussels and Frankfurt, rather what is involved is a separation, which is customarily made by the ECB, between monetary policy and liquidity provision. Now all of this may seem rather obscure, and it is, but it is also, I will argue here, rather central to understanding what the ECB is up to, or trying hard to be up to, at the present moment in time, and why what it seems to be giving with one hand it also seems to be taking away with the other.
Despite recent optimism about the apparent renaisance of growth in the Japanese economy, and the heightened sense of enthusiasm which surrounds the surge in economic activity right across the Asian continent there are considerable grounds for caution about the sustainability of the Japanese recovery itself. The first of these is to be found in the [...]
In the long run we are all dead. But as someone else famously put it: we ain’t dead yet, and in the space between these two undeniable truths move forex traders, financial markets and a host of other would be economic participants. The financial press is full right now of headline catching stories about how [...]
As doubts grow that in the post Dubai world Russia’s central bank will be able to sustain a great deal of momentum in its ongoing programme of interest rate reductions, we learn this week that the pace of expansion in Russia’s economy slowed back in November, following two months of steady advance in September and [...]