The eurozone’s annual inflation rate climbed above the 1 per cent mark for the first time since 2013 in December, underscoring the impact of climbing energy costs on consumer prices which have lagged at worryingly low levels for the last three years.
At 1.1 per cent, year-on-year inflation in December was confirmed in a second reading from Eurostat, which also showed an uptick in core inflation to 0.9 per cent.
But the inflationary performance across the 19-country bloc remains mixed – a development that could pose a headache for the European Central Bank, which targets average price growth of just below 2 per cent.
Germany, Europe’s largest economy, recorded a more than three-year high of 1.7 per cent last month while Italy remained more sluggish at 0.5 per cent.
A reversal in U.S. trade policy could make 2017 the year that efforts to build multinational trade zones crumble, returning the focus to tough, bilateral dealmaking.
In October 2015, officials from 12 nations including the U.S. and Japan gathered in the American city of Atlanta to ink the historic Trans-Pacific Partnership, confident of the dawning of a new age of trade governed by such high-level, multilateral agreements. Yet that dream lies all but dead just over a year later, not least due to Donald Trump’s presidential victory and his pledge to pull the U.S. from the agreement upon taking office Jan. 20.
Many bilateral free trade agreements, which reduce or abolish tariffs and set rules for trade in goods and services between two nations, have been struck over the years. Multilateral agreements extend this notion to the regional level and improve security in the areas they cover, further greasing the wheels of commerce.
Yet Trump prefers his trade pacts one on one — the better to drive hard bargains, leveraging U.S. economic and diplomatic might to secure the most advantageous terms. Multilateral pacts involve far more careful compromise and require each nation to give and take small concessions rather than pushing for an unambiguous win.
As 2016 draws to a close, a sense of unease is gripping many commentators as they look ahead. This year brought victories for Brexit and Donald Trump. The outcome of both votes were largely unexpected. What will 2017 bring? The EU is facing three, or even four, elections in major member states. The Netherlands, France, Germany and possibly also Italy will go to the polls. The outcome in all four elections is far from certain at this stage. Indeed, voting behavior seems to have become difficult to predict.
Economic and sociological research points to a number of different factors provoking these recent results. The debate is broadly about whether it is economic issues such as income inequality, cultural issues such as a rejection of equal rights for women, minorities and gay people, or factors relating to citizens’ perceived loss of control over their destiny that has driven people to support populist candidates and causes.
At first sight, the economic factors seem to have played a strong role. The vote for Brexit predominantly came from the countryside, where GDP per capita levels are significantly lower than in the cities. Moreover, income inequality levels are much higher in the United States and the U.K. than in continental Europe. And indeed, one can show that the Brexit vote is significantly affected by regional income inequality though the effect may not be very large.
The second explanation is a rejection of progressive cultural norms. An interesting study by Ingelhart and Norris emphasizes very much this aspect. They offer evidence that the recent protest votes are a cultural backlash against progressive values. And indeed, discourse especially on social media has totally changed. Unfortunately, it seems to have become widely acceptable to talk of white supremacy and engage in racist discourse.
First it was the US, then Germany blamed much of what is wrong in society on “fake news”, and not, say, a series of terrible decisions made by politicians. Now it is Italy’s turn to call for an end to “fake news”, which in itself would not be troubling, however, the way Giovanni Pitruzzella, head of the Italian competition body, demands the European Union “cracks down” on what it would dub “fake news” is nothing short of a total crackdown on all free speech, and would give local governments free reign to silence any outlet that did not comply with the establishment propaganda.
In an interview with the FT, Pitruzzella said the regulation of false information on the internet was best done by the state rather than by social media companies such as Facebook, an approach taken previously by Germany, which has demanded that Facebook end “hate speech” and has threatened to find the social network as much as €500K per “fake” post.
Pitruzzella, head of the Italian competition body since 2011, said “EU countries should set up independent bodies — co-ordinated by Brussels and modeled on the system of antitrust agencies — which could quickly label fake news, remove it from circulation and impose fines if necessary.”
In other words, a series of unelected bureaucrats, unaccountable to anyone, would sit down and between themselves decide what is and what isn’t “fake news”, and then, drumroll, “remove it from circulation.” On the other hand, coming one week after Obama give Europe the green light to engage in any form of censorship and halt of free speech that it desires, when the outgoing US president voted into law the “Countering Disinformation And Propaganda Act”, it should come as no surprise that a suddenly emboldened Europe is resorting to such chilling measures.
So with Europe on the verge of rolling out unbridled censorship, here is the strawman used to justify it.
A collapse in house prices during the eurozone’s sovereign debt crisis delivered a substantial knock to household wealth, hinting at rising inequality in the continent, according to new figures from the European Central Bank.
It its latest survey of 84,000 households across the single currency area, the ECB found average net wealth in the eurozone fell 10 per cent from 2010 to 2014 compared to the pre-crisis years, while inequality between the richest and poorest also edged up on some measures.
Amid concerns that growing inequality has emboldened populist and eurosceptic forces, the ECB said the overall distribution of wealth in the eurozone was “skewed” towards the richest.
The survey found that the median household – which separates the richer half of the population from the poorer half – owned net wealth worth €104,100 over the four-year period. This compares with €496,000 for the 90th percentile (the household that divides the poorest 90 per cent of the population from the richest 10 per cent).
Declining asset prices – led by property crashes in the likes of Spain and Ireland but spread across the continent from 2010 to 2012 – imposed the biggest hit to wealth in the period. Euro-area citizens are particularly exposed to changes in house prices, as over 80 per cent of household wealth is in “real assets” such as property.
Evidence of higher inequality following the financial crisis has been mixed. Global central banks have however been criticised for stimulus measures that have driven up the price of stocks and bonds through their quantitative easing measures.
One widely-cited measure of wealth inequality, the Gini coefficient, crept up to 68.5 per cent from 68 per cent in the eurozone, “within the margin of measurement error”said the ECB. It also found that the share of wealth concentrated among the top 5 per cent of rich households increased to 37.8 per cent from 37.2 per cent.
With the ECB snubbing Italy on Friday, and refusing to grant insolvent bank Monte Paschi more time to find a financial rescue, it was of paramount urgency for Italy to announce a replacement government that of outgoing prime minister Matteo Renzi, in order to mitigate concerns about the ongoing political chaos. As a result, on Sunday, Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella asked departing Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni – a loyalist from Renzi’s Democratic Party – to form a new government, in the process hopefully bringing to a close a political crisis triggered by a ‘no vote’ in a referendum on constitutional reform last weekend.
As the WSJ first reported, Mattarella gave Gentiloni the mandate to try to form a new caretaker cabinet. Gentiloni, 62, accepted and will begin consultations with political parties to put together his team of ministers. That list could emerge as soon as Sunday evening, setting the stage for the new government to seek votes of confidence in parliament by Tuesday. Correspondents say that if he is successful in rallying support a government could be formed in days.
Back in March, when the ECB unexpectedly announced it would begin buying corporate bonds, while the German population was rather angry, its media was furious. The best example of the fury came from Germany’s Handelsblatt, which in an article titled “The dangerous game with the money of the German savers”, the authors provide a metaphorical rendering of what is happening in Europe as follows:
The publication also painted a caricature of the man behind Europe’s monetary policy:
After two previous taxpayer funded bailouts, and nearly five months of foreplay since the third largest Italian bank failed the latest European stress test at the end of July, in which the Italian government in September vow that “bailout for Italian banks has been ‘absolutely’ ruled out”, a third bailout, as we previewed earlier today, is now imminent.
According to Reuters, which cites two sources, Italy is preparing to take a €2 billion controlling stake in Monte Paschi as the bank’s hopes of a private funding rescue have faded after a fruitless five month search to secure an anchor investor, following Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s decision to quit.
The government, which is already the ailing bank’s single largest shareholder with a four percent share, is planning do a debt-for-equity swap, and buy junior bonds held by ordinary Italians to take the stake up to 40%, the sources said. The bonds would then be equitized, converting the government’s bond stake into pure equity ownership, a troubling approach as it would effectively wipe out the existing equity tranche and position the bank for a potential bankruptcy fight in court where the government faces off with the equity committee.
This transaction would make the government by far the biggest shareholder, meaning the Treasury would be able to control Italy’s third biggest bank and its shareholder meetings, or in other words, the bank would be nationalized.
The sources said a government decree authorizing the deal, which would see the state buy the subordinated bonds from retail investors and convert them into shares, could be rushed through as early as this weekend. Italy’s treasury would buy the bonds held by around 40,000 retail investors at face value, the sources said.