This week has seen something of an expected shifting of the sands from the European Central Bank ( ECB) about the economic prospects for the Euro area. On Monday its President Mario Draghi told the European Parliament this.

The data that have become available since my last visit in September have been somewhat weaker than expected. Euro area GDP grew by 0.2% in the third quarter. This follows growth of 0.4% in both the first and second quarter of 2018. The loss in growth momentum mainly reflects weaker trade growth, but also some country and sector-specific factors.

What he did not say was that back in 2017 quarterly growth had risen to 0.7% for a time. Back then the situation was a happy one for Mario and his colleagues as their extraordinary monetary policies looked like they were bearing some fruit. However the challenge was always what happens when they begin to close the tap? Let me illustrate things by looking again at his speech.

The unemployment rate declined to 8.1% in September 2018, which is the lowest level observed since late 2008, and employment continued to increase in the third quarter…….. Wages are rising as labour markets continue to improve and labour supply shortages become increasingly binding in some countries.

There is a ying and yang here because whilst we should all welcome the improvement in the unemployment rate, we would expect the falls to slow and maybe stop in line with the reduced economic growth rate. So is around 8% it for the unemployment rate even after negative interest-rates ( still -0.4%) and a balance sheet now over 4.6 billion Euros? That seems implied to some extent in talk of “labour supply shortages” when the unemployment rate is around double that of the US and UK and treble that of Japan. This returns us to the fear that the long-term unemployment in some of the Euro area is effectively permanent something we looked at during the crisis. In another form another ECB policymaker has suggested that.

I will focus my remarks today on the economies of central, eastern and south-eastern Europe (CESEE), covering both those that are already part of the European Union (EU) and those that are EU candidate countries or potential candidates………..Clearly, for most countries, convergence towards the EU-28 average has practically stalled since the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2008

Care is needed as only some of these countries are in the Euro but of course some of the others should be converging due to the application process. Even Benoit Coeure admits this.

And if there is no credible prospect of lower-income countries catching up soon, there is a risk that people living in those countries begin questioning the very benefits of membership of the EU or the currency union.

I have a couple of thoughts for you. Firstly Lithuania has done relatively well but the fact I have friends from there highlights how many are in London leading to the thought that how much has that development aided its economy? You may need to probe a little as due to the fact it was part of Russia back in the day some prefer to say they are Russian. Also the data reminds us of how poor that area that was once called Yugoslavia remains. It is hardly going to be helped by the development described below by Balkan Insight.

At the fifth joint meeting of the governments of Albania and Kosovo in Peja, in Kosovo, the Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama backed the decision of the Kosovo government to raise the tax on imports from Serbia and Bosnia from 10 to 100 per cent.

Banks

Here the ECB is conflicted. Like all central banks its priority is “the precious” otherwise known as the banks. Yet it is part of the operation to apply pressure on Italy and take a look at this development.

As this is very significant let us break it down and yes in the world of negative interest-rates and expanded central bank balance sheets Unicredit has just paid an eye-watering 7.83% on some bonds. Just the 6.83% higher than at the opening of 2018 and imagine if you held similar bonds with it. Ouch! Of that there is an element driven by changes in Italy’s situation but the additional part added by Unicredit seems to be around 3.5%.

If we look back I recall describing Unicredit as a zombie bank on Sky News around 7 years ago. The official view in more recent times is that it has been a success story in the way it has dealt with non performing loans and the like. Although of course success is a relative term with a share price of 11.5 Euros as opposed to the previous peak of more like 370 Euros. Now it is paying nearly 8% for its debt we need not only to question even that heavily depreciated share price and it gives a pretty dreadful implied view for the weaker Italian banks such as Monte Paschi which Johannes mentions. Also those non-performing loans which were packaged up and sold at what we were told “great deals” whereas now they look dreadful, well on the long side anyway.

Perhaps this was what the Bank of Italy meant by this.

The fall in prices for Italian government securities has caused a reduction in capital reserves and
liquidity and an increase in the cost of wholesale funding. The sharp decline in bank share prices has resulted
in a marked increase in the cost of equity. Should the tensions on the sovereign debt market be protracted, the
repercussions for banks could be significant, especially for some small and medium-sized banks.

Comment

We can bring things right up to date with this morning’s money supply data.

Annual growth rate of narrower monetary aggregate M1, comprising currency in circulation and overnight deposits, stood at 6.8% in October, unchanged from previous month.

So we are holding station to some extent although in real terms we are slightly lower as inflation has picked up to 2.2%. Thus the near-term outlook remains weak and we can expect a similar fourth quarter to the third. Actually I would not be surprised if it was slightly better but still weak..

Looking around a couple of years ahead the position is slightly better although we do not know yet how much of this well be inflation as opposed to growth.

Annual growth rate of broad monetary aggregate M3 increased to 3.9% in October 2018 from 3.6% in September (revised from 3.5%).

On the other side of the coin credit flows to businesses seem to have tightened.

Annual growth rate of adjusted loans to non-financial corporations decreased to 3.9% in October from 4.3% in September

Personally I think that the latter number is a lagging indicator but the ECB has trumpeted it as more of a leading one so let’s see.

The external factor which is currently in play is the lower oil price which will soon begin to give a boost and will reduce inflation if it remains near US $60 for the Brent Crude benchmark. But none the less the midnight oil will be burning at the ECB as it mulls the possibility that all that balance sheet expansion and negative interest-rates gave economic activity such a welcome but relatively small boost. Also it will be on action stations about the Italian banking sector. For myself I fear what this new squeeze on Italian banks will do to the lending to the wider economy which of course had ground to a halt as it is.