December 5, 2019

European Economy Remains Fragile, Data Shows

In its monthly report on lending, the central bank said Thursday that loans to companies, not including banks, in the 17-nation currency zone fell at an annual rate of 1.8 percent in November, the same rate of decline as in October.

That is a sign that measures by the bank have not yet succeeded in restoring the flow of credit to troubled countries like Spain. Credit is a prerequisite for economic growth, and the central bank closely watches data on lending in deciding the level of the official interest rate.

During the last year the central bank has gone to ever greater lengths to encourage lending. It has cut the benchmark interest rate to a record low of 0.75 percent and allowed banks effectively to borrow as much money as they want at that rate.

The central bank has also promised to buy the bonds of countries like Spain to hold down their borrowing costs, a policy intended to help businesses and consumers in the countries hardest hit by recession.

The interest rate that a government pays often acts as a floor on the market rates paid by the country’s companies and consumers.

But the central bank’s efforts have been thwarted by continued reluctance by banks, many of which are already burdened by bad loans and are trying to reduce risk. In some countries there may also be a lack of demand for loans, because corporate managers are not confident enough to resume investing in their businesses.

“Today’s euro zone bank lending figures are a timely reminder that the economic situation in the 17-country region remains very fragile,” Martin van Vliet, an analyst at ING Bank, wrote in a note to clients on Thursday.

Lending to euro zone households continued to register only weak growth, rising at an annual rate of 0.4 percent in November, the same rate as in October, the central bank said.

The latest data could reinforce expectations that the bank will cut the benchmark rate early this year, perhaps as soon as the monthly monetary policy meeting next Thursday.

But a rate cut would most likely face opposition from some members of the central bank’s governing council, including Jens Weidmann, president of the Bundesbank, the German central bank.

Mr. Weidmann and others might argue that lower rates would increase the risk of inflation, without doing much to encourage lending in the countries that need it most.

In interviews and other public statements, Mr. Weidmann has continued to warn about inflation even though most economists see little risk.

Inflation in the euro area fell to an annual rate of 2.2 percent in November from 2.5 percent in October, according to the most recent official figures. The central bank aims to keep inflation at about 2 percent.

The report on monetary conditions did contain some good news. Mr. van Vliet pointed out that bank deposits in Spain and Greece rose in November, a sign that people were no longer withdrawing money from those two countries.

“This confirms that fears of a (partial) euro zone breakup are gradually receding,” Mr. van Vliet wrote.

And while the German economy has slowed in recent months, unemployment numbers released Thursday suggested that it remained resilient. The unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent from 6.5 percent, the German Federal Employment Agency said. Adjusting for seasonal fluctuations, however, the unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.9 percent. About 2.9 million people in Germany are jobless.

The stable German labor market, despite poor weather that would normally suppress hiring, is a sign that “most firms do not expect the currently weak economic environment to persist for much longer,” Thomas Harjes, an analyst at Barclays, wrote in a note.

According to the methodology used by the International Labor Organization, which uses a narrower definition of joblessness, Germany’s unemployment rate was only 5.3 percent.

A report by the Bank of England Thursday indicated that the British central bank is having better luck restoring credit to the economy than the European Central Bank. Lending to both businesses and consumers rose significantly, the Bank of England said in its quarterly credit conditions survey.

Britain is not a member of the euro zone, and the Bank of England undoubtedly faces a less complex task than the European Central Bank, which must try to fashion a monetary policy for 17 countries.

The Bank of England attributed the improvement to its Funding for Lending Scheme, which rewards banks that increase the amount of credit they provide. Banks that lend more can borrow more from the central bank at lower rates than banks that decrease lending.

“The Funding for Lending Scheme was widely cited as contributing towards the increase in secured and corporate credit availability,” the Bank of England said in a statement.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/04/business/global/bank-lending-in-euro-zone-slumped-in-november-data-show.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bank Lending in Euro Zone Slumped in November, Data Show

In its monthly report on lending, the E.C.B. said Thursday that loans to companies, not including banks, in the 17-nation currency zone fell at an annual rate of 1.8 percent in November, the same rate of decline as in October.

That is a sign that E.C.B. measures have not yet succeeded in restoring the flow of credit to troubled countries like Spain. Credit is a prerequisite for economic growth, and the E.C.B. closely watches data on lending in deciding the level of the official interest rate.

The latest data could encourage expectations that the E.C.B. will soon cut the benchmark rate from 0.75 percent, already a record low, as soon as its monthly monetary policy meeting on Jan. 10.

“Today’s euro zone bank lending figures are a timely reminder that the economic situation in the 17-country region remains very fragile,” Martin van Vliet, an analyst at ING Bank, wrote in a note to clients Thursday.

The E.C.B. report on monetary conditions did contain some good news, however. Mr. van Vliet pointed out that bank deposits in Spain and Greece rose in November, a sign that people are no longer pulling money out of those two countries.

“This confirms that fears of a (partial) euro zone breakup are gradually receding,” Mr. van Vliet wrote.

In addition, according to a separate report, unemployment figures from Germany showed that the labor market is holding up well despite slower economic growth.

The unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent from 6.5 percent, the German Federal Employment Agency said. Adjusting for seasonal fluctuations, however, the number of unemployed people was unchanged at 6.9 percent. About 2.9 million people in Germany are jobless.

The stable German labor market, despite poor weather that would normally suppress hiring, is a sign that “most firms do not expect the currently weak economic environment to persist for much longer,” Thomas Harjes, an analyst at Barclays, wrote in a note.

According to the methodology used by the International Labor Organization, which uses a narrower definition of joblessness, Germany’s unemployment rate was only 5.3 percent.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/04/business/global/bank-lending-in-euro-zone-slumped-in-november-data-show.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

European Finance Ministers Approve Billions in Loans for Greece

Speaking after the meeting, Jean-Claude Juncker, who heads the euro zone finance ministers, said they had agreed to release their portion of an 8 billion-euro loan to Greece. The International Monetary Fund is expected to sign off on its share — roughly one third — early next month, making the loans available by the middle of December.

The ministers also agreed on rules to increase the firepower of their bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, and will be able to offer insurance to those buying the bonds of nations like Spain and Italy. In these cases, insurance certificates — attached to make bonds more attractive — will themselves be tradable, said Klaus Regling, who heads the bailout fund. The fund will also seek investment from sovereign wealth funds and other non-European sources.

Though a goal of 1 trillion euros, or $1.3 trillion, was set for the expanded bailout fund, ministers acknowledged that this was now unlikely, and no figure was given at Tuesday night’s news conference.

Luc Frieden, Luxembourg’s finance minister, said the figure of 1 trillion euros “will be very difficult to reach, in view of the changed market circumstances.”

“I think the E.F.S.F. alone will not be able to solve all the problems,” Mr. Frieden said.

“We have to do so together with the I.M.F. and with the E.C.B., within the framework of its independence,” he said, referring to the European Central Bank.

The six hours of talks here highlighted the contrast between Europe’s tortuous decision-making and the breakneck speed with which financial markets have been pushing the currency zone toward a moment of truth.

While proposals have been working their way through Europe’s convoluted procedures, risks have grown that the debt crisis will plunge Europe into a steep recession or lead to a fragmentation of the currency union.

On Tuesday, the borrowing costs of Italy, the euro zone’s third-largest economy after Germany and France, reached nearly 8 percent, a record since the inception of the common currency in 1999. After the discussions late Tuesday, Olli Rehn, European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, said that because of the economic slowdown, there would have to be tougher measures if Italy was to reach its financial goals.

Mr. Juncker said the ministers would explore “further options” to leverage the bailout fund.

A month after European Union leaders announced a plan to resolve the crisis, most of those decisions have either been delayed or overtaken by events, said Nicolas Véron, a senior fellow at the Bruegel economic research institute in Brussels. Plans to increase the power of the bailout fund, were now “too little too late,” Mr. Véron said, adding that Europe’s policy errors were caused by a “systemic failure of our institutional framework.”

France and Germany said they planned to break the downward spiral by outlining a new push toward a fiscal union, with stricter rules against budget “sinners,” before a meeting of leaders next week in Brussels.

The details of how these ideas will be pushed through remain highly uncertain, but Mr. Juncker said that discussions on tightening the rules would include the possibility of changing the European Union’s governing treaty — a slow and cumbersome process.

Germany is determined to toughen the euro zone rules significantly before it contemplates any additional far-reaching changes to help shore up the currency. So far, Berlin has resisted both greater intervention by the European Central Bank, which might stoke inflation, as well as the short-term introduction of common euro zone bonds.

Some officials hope that agreement in principle on new fiscal rules can encourage the central bank to intervene more actively to help Italy and Spain without risking criticism from Berlin. In recent days, senior figures in Austria, Finland and the Netherlands have declined to rule out an enhanced role for the bank.

The latest discussions illustrate the time it takes to impose decisions in Europe. Plans to expand the bailout fund, and allow it more freedom, were agreed to in July, and a decision was made in October to leverage its power to around 1 trillion euros. The decision on whether to release an international loan of 8 billion euros to Greece was also made in October, but carrying that out was held up when the former Greek prime minister, George A. Papandreou, suggested holding a referendum on the bailout package. The idea was later scrapped, and Mr. Papandreou resigned.

The finance ministers agreed Tuesday to release that 8 billion-euro installment, said an official who requested anonymity because an announcement had not yet been made. The money, part of the initial 110 billion-euro bailout extended to Greece last year, also must be approved by the International Monetary Fund.

Bank recapitalization, the third pillar of the October meeting, was not a main area of discussion on Tuesday, but there are worries that this requirement may impose burdens on banks that make them less likely to lend.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=e2fb4e96eb311b604fa61e1a8de99323

In Debt Deal, Merkel Seizes Initiative and Confounds Critics

Early on Thursday morning, Chancellor Merkel appeared to defy her detractors as she helped lead the nations of the euro currency zone to the most comprehensive deal yet to prop up the ailing shared currency, defend heavily indebted member states and protect the Continent’s shaky financial system.

“She is not the kind of person who leads Europe because she believes that she is meant to lead like some of her predecessors,” said Kurt Kister, editor in chief of the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. “She takes responsibility when she sees that the others are not in a position and she believes that she has to.”

Throughout the slow-moving financial crisis it is safe to say that no one has been more fascinating, and more vexing, than Mrs. Merkel, who has frequently come under fire on both sides of the Atlantic for what critics assailed as her plodding, reactive, inadequate style of leadership. But something changed in the weeks ahead of Wednesday’s critical meeting.

The treacherous sands of German politics firmed up, giving Mrs. Merkel the base of support at home to push for a more comprehensive rescue plan.

Mrs. Merkel may not always move quickly, said Mr. Kister, “but at the decisive moments she doesn’t hesitate.”

Though markets rallied Thursday, Europeans understand the debt crisis has not been solved once and for all by the latest steps. But given the relative success of the latest agreement, supporters offer an alternate narrative of the chancellor, portraying her as a consummate poker player using the pressure of the market to extract previously inconceivable cutbacks and reforms from the Greek government even in the face of rioting Athenians, while at the same time forcing banks to accept 50 percent losses on their holdings of Greek debt.

Mrs. Merkel has persevered through a difficult year that saw her party, the Christian Democrats, suffer one setback after another in key German state elections, while her coalition partners, the pro-business Free Democrats, saw their support among voters nearly collapse. But she managed to turn weakness into strength, reminding her coalition that a break in the ranks could spell new elections and defeat.

Two days before the crucial vote last month to expand the size of the bailout fund, Mrs. Merkel flashed the wit she keeps largely under wraps, warning lawmakers from her conservative bloc that she could not have “an orgy of abstentions.”

“I’m too fond of you,” she told the parliamentarians, “and have many too many plans for you anyway.”

A September vote to expand the bailout fund passed the Bundestag by a wide margin, as did a second vote on Wednesday that helped empower Mrs. Merkel as she entered the grueling but ultimately successful night of negotiations in Brussels.

Political analysts describe a sharp learning curve for Mrs. Merkel on economic and monetary issues since the very beginning of the financial crisis. The slightly patronizing view had been that she had difficulty understanding the financial markets. Rather, those close to her say, if she had any trouble understanding, it was because as a trained physicist — a rational scientist — she was initially perplexed by the emotional and at times irrational nature of market swings.

“She didn’t quite understand why 10 small steps didn’t have the impact on the market that one big step did, even if the little steps actually added up to more,” said a senior lawmaker from Mrs. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly about the chancellor.

Mrs. Merkel has come a long way since those days before the September vote, when the German capital was abuzz with speculation that her parliamentary coalition would crack and her government might fall.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=acbacf2f9b4060b7b9b919080917e594