Eurozone crisis live: Cameron demands action on growth as EU summit begins
This article titled “Eurozone crisis live: Cameron demands action on growth as EU summit begins” was written by Graeme Wearden and Julia Kollewe, for guardian.co.uk on Monday 30th January 2012 17.12 UTC
A headline just popped up on Reuters saying EU leaders have agreed to set up a permanent ESM bailout mechanism to come into effect in July and will sign a treaty at a later stage.
As promised, another shot of Cameron at today’s EU summit in Brussels. When he arrived, he told the assembled media that the summit – which was supposed to last just three hours – needed to focus on growth. He told Europe to “get really serious” about jobs and growth and restore the EU’s economic fortunes.
As he strode into the summit building, he said:
We need to get really serious about the growth agenda in Europe. We need to complete the single market, agree trade deals and make serious efforts to de-regulate small businesses. That’s the agenda I shall be pushing and I hope to find a lot of support.
Leaders are set to agree a statement declaring: “We have to actively enhance growth and competitiveness, so as to create jobs, preserve our social models, and ensure the well-being of our people.”
But the short-term worries about Greek debt and possible default overshadow all of these lofty aims. German chancellor Angela Merkel is demanding much tougher controls on the Greek economy – including independent outside control over the nation’s tax and spend austerity measures. The idea that they should give up a key element of their national sovereignty has infuriated the Greeks but the chancellor says she needs to show the German public that more German money for a second Greek bailout is going to a country getting to grips with its massive debts.
The summit is expected to set out the terms of a new “fiscal compact” to tighten controls on all eurozone economies, and summit chairman Herman Van Rompuy is determined to send out a tough message that the emergency aid to struggling eurozone economies will be backed up by solid measures to boost jobs and restore growth.
If today’s moves in European markets signal anything, they signal a lack of confidence in European leaders to deliver on what investors had hoped last week would be some form of progress with respect to a Greek debt deal over the weekend, says Michael Hewson, market analyst at CMC Markets. Here is a market round-up.
Having seen markets hold on to the gains from the previous two weeks on the back of EU officials promises that a deal was close; the lack of any progress over the weekend has seen the markets deliver its verdict and it’s rather damning, with the FTSE hitting its lowest levels in nearly two weeks. Friction between Germany and Greece over increased budget oversight hasn’t helped sentiment either.
US markets took their cues from European markets opening sharply lower, though the bias had already been slightly lower after Friday’s disappointed market reaction to the latest US GDP numbers. Economic data for December for personal spending and income showed that while wages were rising slightly above expectations, personal spending was flat, suggesting that despite the recent improvement in economic data, the US consumer was remaining cautious.
Biggest fallers were, not unexpectedly JP Morgan and Bank of America, as markets digested a downgrade of BoA from “buy” to “neutral” from sector peer Goldman Sachs. On the plus side Citigroup and Morgan Stanley were on the receiving end of upgrades to “buy”.
The US dollar has bounced back from last week’s late losses with only the Japanese yen performing better than the greenback. The single currency has slid back sharply despite Italy managing to get away €7.5bn worth of 5 and 10 year bonds, albeit at lower yields, in the wake of last Friday’s long awaited Fitch downgrade. The lack of any news on a Greek PSI deal has also seen an unwinding of some of the recent gains in the euro, as markets grow sceptical that EU leaders are capable of anything other than spin.
Tensions between Greece and Germany over increased budget oversight with respect to a second bailout haven’t helped either. Fears over Portugal and the sustainability of its finances have also increased after the yield curve inverted with the 10 year yield above 17% to a post euro high.
The Japanese yen has also risen sharply to its highest levels since October, as US 10 year treasury yields have slid sharply, close to one month lows. Traders are also watching the Swiss National Bank as the Swiss franc edges closer to the 1.2000 peg, trading below 1.2050 for the first time in over three months.
Commodity prices have slid back across the board as the US dollar has rebounded with gold and silver prices. Crude oil prices have tracked equities lower but not by as much as you would think given the on-going worries about the situation in the Middle East. Iran’s threat to pre-empt Europe’s blockade has lent some support to prices even though prices are lower. Copper prices have gapped lower today dragged lower by concerns that Chinese demand may have peaked in the short term. There is also concern that today’s EU leaders summit could well end as so many before it, to quote Shakespeare “full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing”.
The European markets have closed. The FTSE in London has finished the day 62.36 points lower at 5671.09, a 1.09% fall, while Germany’s Dax closed down 63.52 points at 6448.46, a near-1% drop and France’s CAC shed 51.46 points to 3267.30, a 1.55% decline.
In this group shot of European leaders, David Cameron is not looking too happy. He is at the back off to the right, surrounded by the leaders of Luxembourg, Slovakia, Estonia and Malta. We’ll post another picture of him in a minute.
Chris Beauchamp, market analyst at IG Index, believes that today’s sell-off may have been overdone.
Although it has managed to drag itself off the lows for the day, the FTSE 100 is still on track to finish around 60 points lower.
US markets have joined the general retreat of stock markets this afternoon, as investors become generally cautious given the storm clouds looming on the horizon. Unsurprisingly, we have had no news at all on a Greek debt deal, and it seems as if negotiations in Brussels over new fiscal rules will also prove long and drawn-out. Portugal’s situation is becoming more precarious by the day, with benchmark bond yields up yet again today, wiping out any positive effect from the reasonably successful Italian bond auction this morning.
Nonetheless, perhaps all the doom and gloom has been overdone. Weak US GDP data last Friday sparked off this latest round of selling, but the US economy still shows signs of improving health, and China data out later in the week could yet put more fight into the rally. In addition, it is almost healthy to see decent levels of scepticism about the latest EU meeting; the current summit has not been billed as a great event, which perhaps provides for the possibility that any degree of progress will embolden the optimists in global markets.
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend… but not in a crisis. Europe’s debt economic woes are having an impact on diamond prices. Dealers at the Antwerp Diamond Trade Fair say European demand for polished diamonds is slow.
Ruud Biesbroeck of diamond producer DHV told Reuters:
I think prices could remain subdued or fall in the first quarter and possibly pick up after that.
The only bright spot for diamond jewellery demand could be Britain where visitor numbers are expected to surge in the early summer when the Queen celebrates her diamond jubilee, followed by the London Olympics. Americans are also expected to buy more diamonds if the US economy picks up steam.
Time for a look at the markets. On Wall Street, the Dow Jones is down 100 points at 12560, a 0.8% drop. The FTSE 100 is 72 points lower at 5561, a 1.3% fall, while Germany’s Dax has lost nerly 80 points, or 1.2%, and France’s CAC has slipped 45 points, a 1.4% fall.
12.27pm). France’s prime minister has warned this afternoon that the French economy will grow by just 0.5% this year.Spain isn’t the only country that’s warning of slower growth today (see
The previous forecast was for 1% growth. This new forecast will leave a €5bn hole in the government’s 2012 budget, but Fillon insisted that further austerity will not be needed.
Speaking of France, here’s a video clip of Nicolas Sarkozy explaining his new economic programme.
And with the EU summit now underway in Brussels, Julia Kollewe is taking over this blog.
Speaking of Angela Merkel…. the German PM appears to have pulled a u-turn on a controversial proposal that the EU should embed a commissioner in Greece to oversee government spending.
The idea of a debt tzar with veto powers over the Greek budget emerged over the weekend, prompting swift anger in Greece. It was suggested by Germany, but Merkel has conceded this afternoon that this invasion of national sovereignty won’t fly.
Merkel told reporters in Brussels that:
I believe that we are having a discussion that we shouldn’t be having.
She added that Europe must help Greece to bring in the austerity measures and economic reforms it has promised, saying:
All that will only work if Greece and all other states discuss this together.
EU leaders are now gathered together in Brussels. Nick Watt, our political correspondent, is at the scene and reports that David Cameron was joking with Angela Merkel amd José Manuel Barroso. Cameron also gave Nicolas Sarkozy a (quick) hug:
PM warm embrace of Sarkozy at EU summit. Very brief. Sarkozy keen to move on
— Nicholas Watt (@nicholaswatt) January 30, 2012
Draft versions of the fiscal compact have been knocking around Brussels in recent days.
1) The “balanced budget rule” appears to have been further watered down:
The wording “with the annual structural deficit not exceeding 0.5% of the GDP at market prices” has been replaced by “with a lower limit of a structural deficit of 0.5% of the GDP at market prices.””
We wonder how the markets will react: There’s quite a substantial difference between imposing a maximum cap and a blander lower limit.
2) Non-euro countries will no longer need to implement at least part of the budgetary rules set out for eurozone countries in order to qualify for a place by the table at future summits of eurozone leaders. However, invites will still be allowed only for meetings which specifically focus on the implementation of the ‘fiscal treaty’.
That, Open Europe says, should be enough to get Sweden onside. Perhaps not Poland, though.
3) Open Europe is also interested by a reference in the fiscal treaty to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) being able to impose fines of 0.1% of GDP on countries that fail to incorporate balanced budget rules into their national laws. It commented:
This is a power that the ECJ seems to have under Article 260 of the Lisbon Treaty. The power to impose fines in such circumstances is therefore not a new power (and the ECJ still does not have the power to punish countries for missing their deficit targets). However, questions still remain over the eligibility of the ECJ to rule on whether the balanced budget rules have been correctly incorporated in the first place.
Quick update on Portugal — its sovereign debt has continued to fall in value today, pushing up the yield on its 10-year bonds to a new high of 17.2%.
As Peterbracken points out in the reader comments below, price changes in the secondary bond market don’t have an immediate impact on Portugal’s borrowing costs – but do reflect how much it would have to pay if it sold new debt.
Another worrying development today — the cost of insuring Portuguese debt against default has hit a new record high. As the FT put it:
the market is now pricing in a 71% chance that the country will default over the next five years.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has also arrived in Brussels, insisting that Ireland does not fear a referendum on the EU treaty on fiscal reform.
Speaking as he arrived at today’s summit of EU leaders, Kenny said the Fine Gael-Labour coalition has “no fear, concern or anxiety” about yet another
vote on an EU treaty (see 10.43am for background info)
Our Ireland correspondent, Henry McDonald, reports:
Under the Irish Constitution the government in Dublin may be obliged to hold a plebescite on the merits of the EU treaty on tighter budgetary discipline because it has implications for the Republic’s sovereignty. The entire EU project was thrown into chaos when the Irish initially rejected the Lisbon Treaty but then were forced to endorse it in a second referendum.
The Taoseach said he hoped that the text on the agreement could be finalised by EU leaders today.
Once that happened, Kenny said it would be sent to the Republic’s Attorney General who would decide if the agreement was in compliance with the Irish Constitution.
Kenny will use the summit to outline his government’s plans to boost job creation in the small and medium-sized business sector (a goal also set by David Cameron as he arrived in Brussels)
He said he hoped the jobs creation issue would be kept central to the agenda of EU summits from here-on because “this is what European politics is about”.
Kenny is expected to highlight the requirement that the tax payer-backed Irish banks meet targets of lending €3.5bn each to small and medium-sized businesses, as well as reductions in PRSI (national insurance) and a number of further soon to be announced jobs initiatives.
David Cameron just arrived at the summit.
The UK prime minister told the assembled media that today’s meeting needs to focus on growth:
That means completing the single market, it means signing trade deals with the fastest growing parts of the world and it means a serious effort at deregulation, particularly for small businesses, so they can create the jobs and the growth that we need.
That’s the agenda I am going to be pushing and I hope to find a lot of support.”
The last time Cameron met his fellow EU leaders, support was in short supply – leading him to deploy his veto.
It now appears that Britain has dropped its opposition to the European Courts of Justice being used to enforce a eurozone fiscal pact, with foreign secretary William Hague saying the threat had been shelved.
You can still watch the EU leaders arriving at this web site.
EU leaders have started to arrive in Brussels for this afternoon’s summit.
Helpfully, the European Council is running a live video-stream of proceedings as a series of chauffeur-driven limos arrive. Some leaders are likely to make ‘doorstep statements’ to the media (who are penned into two enclosures close to the red carpet), although others are choosing to sashay inside without a word.
We’ll keep an eye on the feed.
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has admited that Spain will miss its growth targets this year.
Speaking after data showed Spain’s economy shrank by 0.3% in the last three months (see 8.13am) , Rajoy said there was no chance of Spain growing by 2.3% in 2012, as planned.
Rajoy told reporters in Brussels, following a meeting with EC president José Manuel Barroso, that:
We’re going to present a new macroeconomic framework, but the current one says that we’ll have GDP growth of 2.3% this year, these are the last macroeconomic projections in Spain, but it is evident that it won’t end up like this.
There’s a great line running on the Wall Street Journal this morning – apparently the French government is reluctant for countries to be penalised if they breach the maximum debt/GDP ratio allowed under the new fiscal compact.
From the WSJ:
EU leaders will discuss on Monday two final unresolved questions on the fiscal compact.
The first is whether non-eurozone countries that have signed the pact will be allowed to participate in meetings where euro-area issues are discussed.
Another issue is whether sanctions will be imposed when countries fail to meet the pact’s requirements on debt-to-gross domestic product ratios.
“The Italians and the French are not keen on the debt rules being up for sanctions,” an EU official told Dow Jones Newswires on Monday.
Tom Rayner of Sky News reports that demonstrators are gathered in Brussels, holding placards calling for the introduction of eurobonds.
Demonstrators calling for introduction of Eurobonds gather outside EU leaders minister in Brussels twitter.com/RaynerSkyNews/…
— Tom Rayner (@RaynerSkyNews) January 30, 2012
The tortuous negotiations between the Greek government and debt auditors representing the EU and IMF are continuing in Athens.
The outcome of the talks will form the basis of the new terms and conditions of the second bailout package for Greece.
As Helena Smith, our Athens correspondent, reported last night, the talks have been stormy – with discussions breaking down last week over the request of creditors for a reduction in the €750 minimum wage and abolishment of a “13th and 14th” month salary bonus granted to workers in the private sector.
EU and IMF officials say both have to be scrapped to make the country’s flagging economy more competitive. But Greek officials are sticking to their guns: they are adamant that the measures will exacerbate Greece’s ongoing recession – the 6% drop in GDP is the worst in Europe – and, in so doing, outweigh the beneficial effects of boosting notoriously low competitive levels.
Instead, the Greek labour minister George Koutroumanis has come out in support of a trade union counterproposal for a three-year wage freeze – this, of course, on top of relentless taxes and other austerity measures enforced over the past two years.
Helena reports that:
Koutroumanis is expected to make the point today when he meets mission chiefs from Greece’s troika of creditors – the EU, ECB and IMF – at what insiders say will almost certainly be another stormy session. “Such measures are totally counter-productive and will never be endorsed,” said Louka Katseli, an erstwhile economy minister in the former socialist government, highlighting the mood among austerity-weary MPs.
Prime minister Lucas Papademos, appears to agree. Perhaps because he is also aware that the policies will never pass a Greek parliament gearing up for elections in the spring, aides say he is prepared to make the case at today’s summit where Greece is meant to be off the agenda but will almost certainly be discussed.
Papademos’s senior economic adviser, George Pagoulatos, told Helena that:
Despite international criticism, there is a strong commitment to reform.
But it must be said that the Greek government also disagrees with some of the policies being requested by the troika and, if Greece is discussed, will argue its case.
But what happens if the troika sets the wage reductions as a precondition of further aid? With Athens teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and facing a €14.5bn bond repayment in barely two months’ time, no side can afford a showdown – not least Greece.
The prospect of Ireland being forced out of the eurozone by the new fiscal treaty has reared up this morning.
European affairs minister Lucinda Creighton told state radio that Ireland’s legal establishment is still considering whether to hold a referendum on the new treaty. The attorney general is expected to give his verdict in a couple of weeks.
Creighton warned that if a referendum were held, and the Irish people opposed the new rules, Ireland would probably have to quit the euro. She explained that:
I think it would make it almost impossible for us to continue as part of the currency union because being part of a currency union means you have to abide by the rules.
The Attorney general may not get the final word. Sein Féin have vowed to take legal action to force a referendum on the issue, if required.
A public opinion poll published last weekend showed that 72% of people believe that a referendum is necessary. It’s not at all clear that a majority of people would support the new fiscal compact.
The results of Italy’s bond auction are in – and at first glance it has gone pretty well.
Italy sold €5.57bn worth of five and ten-year bonds (having aimed to sell a maximum of €6bn). The interest rates demanded by investors fell significantly, to the lowest levels since October.
Yields on the 10-year bonds dropped to 6.08%, down from 6.98% at the previous auction at the end of December, and was over-subscribed
The five-year bonds sold at an average yield of 5.39%, down from 6.47%, but the total sold – €3.6bn – was some way shy of the €4bn target.
This follows a trend of successful bond auctions in 2012, after the €500bn of low-cost loans which commercial banks took from the European Central Bank in December.
Today’s yields still put Italy firmly in the “worrying” camp – but there should be relief that they were below the 7% mark (where the “danger zone” is said to begin).
A gimmer of hope this morning – eurozone business leaders and consumers are slightly more optimistic than a month ago.
The European commission reported that economic sentiment crept up to 93.4, as measured by its own business climate survey, up from 92.8 in December.
Consumer pessimism has dropped too – to -20.7 this month, from -21.3.
Economic sentiment slid to a two-year low in December, following the events at the EU summit early that month. Today’s data reflects the general sense of relief in January, a month in which shares have risen and most peripheral bond yields have fallen (with Portugal missing out).
That mood could quickly darken, though, if today’s summit goes badly or Greece’s debt/bailout talks fail.
UPDATE: Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight commented that:
While this is a boost for hopes that eurozone economic activity may be stabilising, the fact remains that sentiment is still at a low level and the eurozone is far from out of the economic woods.
There’s widespread industrial action in Belgium this morning, as unions call a strike to mark today’s summit meeting.
The general strike — Brussels’ first in almost two decades – has forced the authorities to close down the country’s rail networok, and left many trams and busses without drivers.
As this photo shows, the normally heaving train platforms were bereft of commuters this morning.
Some international flights have been cancelled, while some bulk cargo terminals have been shuttered at the port of Antwerp.
The strike is designed to signal opposition to Belgium’s fiscal cutbacks. Philippe Dubois, a railway union member outside Brussels’ Midi station, told Reuters that:
We are angry because they want to attack our pensions. We want to make some noise.
Now this is a little worrying — the index which tracks volatility in Europe’s financial markets has risen by almost 10% this morning.
The Euro STOXX 50 volatility index, seen as Europe’s yardstick of investor sentiment, jumped by 9.4% in early trading. That indicates that traders are more risk-averse (the higher the number, the greater the volatility).
Until today, the Euro STOXX 50 had been dropping steadily through January, reflecting hopes that the eurozone crisis was being resolved. At 26.6, the index is still rather low compared to the last few months – so not a reason to panic, more a sign of nervousness.
Shares have fallen broadly in the first hour of trading in Europe, ahead of this afternoon’s summit.
The FTSE 100 has shed 49 points, or 0.87%, to 5683. Financial stocks are leading the fallers – with Barclays, Aviva, Lloyds Banking Group, RBS and Prudential all dropping by between 2% and 3%.
Spain’s IBEX is the worst performer of the major indices, down 1.3% following the news that the Spanish economy shrank by 0.3% in the last quarter (see 8.13am)
Portuguese borrowing costs have hit all-time highs this morning, as fears grow that it will need a second bailout.
As Bloomberg’s Linda Yueh swiftly tweeted, the yield (or interest rate) on Portugal’s 10-year bonds is approaching 16% – twice the level seen as sustainable.
— Linda Yueh (@lindayueh) January 30, 2012
Yanis Varoufakis, who runs the Department of Economic Policy at the University of Athens, has rubbished the idea that austerity will help Greece to return to growth.
Varoufakis told Radio 4′s Today programme that the plan wouldn’t work:
Even if God and his angels were to descend upon Athens and put them in place.
Gabriel, Michael & Raphael would, at least, make a more impressive trio than the Troika who Athenians have grown used to seeing.
If you missed Lucas Papademos’s warning last night, here’s how the Greek PM described the importance of agreeing a new package of financial support:
If this process isn’t successfully concluded then we face the spectre of bankruptcy with all the dire consequences for society that entails.
Papademos released the statement after meeting with the leaders of Greece’s three largest political parties. He said they were all in “complete agreement” with the government on continuing talks with private and international creditors.
It’s official – Spain’s economy is shrinking.
Data released in the last few minutes showed that Spanish GDP fell by 0.3% in the last three months of 2011, compared with the previous quarter. That’s the first contraction in eight quarters.
On an annual basis, Spanish GDP increased by just 0.3% over the year. That’s one of the weakest performances in Europe, underlining the challenge faced by its new government.
It’s the second blow to hit Spain in recent days – last Friday, unemployment smashed through the five-million mark, putting the jobless rate at 22.8%. More than half of 16-24 year-old Spaniards are out of work.
Confirmation that Spain is shrinking could give prime minister Mariano Rajoy more ammunition in his negotiations with the EU. Our Madrid correspondent Giles Tremlett reported on Friday that Rajoy is urging Europe to relax Spain’s deficit reduction targets.
Here’s today’s agenda:
• Spanish GDP released: 8am GMT / 9am CET
• Italy auctions €6bn of five and 10-year bonds – from 10am / 11am CET
• Eurozone consumer confidence for January released – 10am / 11am CET
• EU leaders begin summit talks in Brussels – 2pm GMT / 3pm CET
Good morning, and welcome to another day of live coverage of the European financial crisis.
EU leaders are heading towards Brussels today for their first summit meeting of 2012. On the to-do list: discussing ways of catalysing economic recovery in Europe, and signing off two new treaties — creating the fiscal compact that will tie eurozone members to tougher budget rules, and establishing the European Stability Mechanism, Europe’s new bailout vehicle.
Overshadowing the summit, though, is Greece. Although the deal with its creditors is (we hear) close to being finalised, there is growing concern that the country’s second bailout needs to be increased. Can eurozone governments be persuaded to put their hands into their pockets again?
The stakes are high — prime minister Lucas Papademos warned last night that Greece was on the brink of disaster, and would plunge into bankruptcy unless the country’s international backers agreed to a new bail-out.
Italy will also be under strutiny — it aims to sell up to €6bn of long-term debt today. Will investors show faith in Mario Monti?
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