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1. France and Germany finally have a common position on euro-zone reformЧт., 21 июня[−]

Roofers’ convention

THE president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, likes to compare the euro zone to a house in need of repair. Fix the roof, he counsels, while the economic weather is favourable. Leaders from across the European Union will have the opportunity to take that advice when the European Council meets in Brussels on June 28th-29th.

In preparation Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, and Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, laid out joint proposals for reforms on June 19th. The result of weeks of ministerial negotiation, they reconciled long-standing differences on the future of the currency bloc and set the scene for discussion at the wider summit. In a victory for Mr Macron, the Germans have consented to a euro-zone budget. In other areas, notably banking reform, progress is likely to be halting.

The reforms aspire to mend the institutional weaknesses revealed during the years following the financial crisis. Lacking control... Continue reading


2. Why countries like Argentina and Turkey fret about exchange ratesЧт., 21 июня[−]

IMAGINE if Milton Friedman had been put in charge of a central bank, only to lose his job for expanding the money supply too quickly. Or if Robert Shiller, the Nobel-prizewinning author of “Irrational Exuberance”, were given a similar post, only to depart having allowed a stockmarket bubble to inflate. That is the kind of irony that attended the resignation under pressure of Federico Sturzenegger as governor of Argentina’s central bank on June 14th, a casualty of deepening turmoil in emerging markets.

Mr Sturzenegger was a former professor at Universidad Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires. His most-cited paper showed that stated currency policy was often a poor guide to actual policy. Many countries claim to let their currencies float freely but in fact “intervene recurrently to stabilise their exchange rates”. Their deeds often belie their words.

Mr Sturzenegger lost his job for much the same thing. Financial markets struggled to reconcile his statements on the currency with his... Continue reading


3. A full-blown trade war between America and China looks likelyЧт., 21 июня[−]

IT IS becoming increasingly likely that the phoney trade war between America and China will develop into the real thing. On June 15th the Trump administration published two lists of Chinese products it plans to hit with tariffs of 25%, worth $50bn in 2018. The first will come into force on July 6th. The Chinese snapped back with their own list, laying out a retaliation of equal size. Then on June 18th President Donald Trump directed Robert Lighthizer, the United States Trade Representative (USTR), to draw up a further list of products worth $200bn that would face tariffs of 10%, and threatened yet another, covering an additional $200bn of goods, if the Chinese retaliated again. At least some of these tough words will probably turn into deeds. Both sides can expect to take casualties.

China regards the first round of American tariffs as a unilateral violation of global trading rules. It has lodged a complaint at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). But Mr Trump’s team maintains that China started the... Continue reading


4. Abraaj, a private-equity firm, files for provisional liquidationЧт., 21 июня[−]

UNTIL recently the Abraaj Group, a private-equity firm based in Dubai, was riding high. It was one of just a few such firms focused on emerging markets, and a darling of “impact investors”, who seek social or environmental returns, not just financial ones. Assets under management of $13.6bn made it the largest private-equity firm in the Middle East, and the 42nd-largest globally in 2017. Its Pakistani founder and boss, Arif Naqvi, a regular at Davos and a patron of the arts, had won awards for philanthropy. It is all the more surprising, then, that basic corporate-governance missteps led his firm to file for provisional liquidation on June 14th.

The problems began in late 2017 when four investors in its $1bn health-care fund, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the private-sector arm of the World Bank, grew worried. Nearly $280m of $545m they had been asked for was not promptly spent on acquisitions, as is standard in the industry. Abraaj blamed delays in the... Continue reading


5. Giddy property prices are a test for Swedish policymakersЧт., 21 июня[−]
ULF DANIELSSON is thinking of buying a holiday home—or even a new house, so that he, his wife and two children can have a garden and more space than in their flat in Uppsala. He can afford either, he says, and as a professor of astrophysics is surely able to work that out. But he is hesitating, lest the giddy rise in Swedish property prices end in an ugly crash. “You risk having a big loan that’s worth more than the house,” he says.The property market has fallen a little closer to Earth: prices dropped by 9% between September and January, largely because of a surfeit of pricey new flats. They then steadied, and are around 5% below the peak—and 50% higher than at the start of 2013, calculates Valueguard, a data provider. As Swedes have borrowed to buy, their debts have risen. Finansinspektionen (FI), the financial-stability supervisor, estimates that borrowers’ debts rose by 36% between 2012 and 2017, while disposable incomes went up by 13%. Almost a fifth of households with new mortgages owe more than six times net income.

6. Hedge funds worry about the legal risks of using “alternative” dataЧт., 21 июня[−]

“QUANT” (quantitative) hedge funds, which craft elaborate algorithms to make trading decisions, rely on access to information. That used to mean market data, such as prices and trading volume. But some now seek an edge in novel sources. An industry has sprung up to serve them with, and help them analyse, “alternative” data, such as those gleaned from satellite images or by scraping websites. Many of these data firms have been founded by entrepreneurs, but some quant funds themselves are getting involved. Winton, a large London-based fund, is spinning off Hivemind, a data-analysis unit. A full-time management team was announced on June 18th.

For funds making macroeconomic bets by trading in, say, currencies or government bonds, real-time measures of inflation (scraped from e-commerce sites) or trade flows (from shipping data) can be better and more timely than the output of national statistics agencies. Funds trading in individual firms’ shares can infer information on sales from satellite... Continue reading


7. China considers its response to Donald Trump’s proposed tariffsЧт., 21 июня[−]

The serried ranks

FOR now, at least, when speaking of the trade dispute with America, China’s government is taking a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone. That helps explain the Chinese public’s surprisingly measured views of Donald Trump, and gives the Chinese government some breathing room to consider its options.

The state media have so far taken the high ground. True, the Global Times, a chest-thumping tabloid, accused the American president of “gambling” that China will be cowed by his “capricious and obstinate attitude”. No country can isolate itself from globalisation, said the Xinhua news agency: “The wise man builds bridges, the fool builds walls.” A new Xinhua web page popped up on June 20th, tracking multilateral deals that Mr Trump has quit, including on trade, climate change and Iranian nuclear arms.

But China has yet to debate, publicly, how to handle an American president who is an avowed populist... Continue reading


8. Most stockmarket returns come from a tiny fraction of sharesЧт., 21 июня[−]

IN his book about the use of language, “The King’s English”, Kingsley Amis describes a tug-of-war. On one side are “berks”, careless and coarse, who would destroy the language by polluting it. On the other side are priggish “wankers”, who would destroy it by sterilisation.

The battle lines look similar in investment. The divide is not on points of grammar but on attitudes towards a handful of modish companies, known as FAANG. These stocks (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google) have been the motor of the S&P 500 (see chart). All but Apple hit record highs on June 20th. Fill your boots is the attitude of coarse stockmarket berks. FAANG makes more sense than stocks in dying industries. For the prigs, the mania for FAANG stocks is as abhorrent as a split infinitive. The high-minded investor stands apart from the herd.

In matters of grammar, the unsure often follow the sticklers. They at least have rules. But they are often too rigid. Stockmarket sticklers can similarly lead others astray. For most investors, it is often a... Continue reading


9. Sino-American interdependence has been a force for geopolitical stabilityЧт., 21 июня[−]

IN THE 1990s America and Europe had a trade dispute over bananas. No one worried that tanks might soon roll as a result. But trade is about more than economics. The European Union, the world’s most ambitious free-trade area, was founded on the idea that trade integration would make war between members “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible”. As the risk of a serious Sino-American trade war grows, attention is mostly focused on the prospect of dearer iPhones and unhappy soyabean farmers. But the stakes are much higher.

China’s economic miracle could not help but provoke geopolitical stress, given its size and illiberality. Relations between America and China are built on mutual suspicion. Geopolitical rivalry has been moderated, however, by economic interdependence: a mutual entanglement some economics wags have dubbed “Chimerica”.

As China opened up, American consumers hoovered up cheap Chinese goods. American firms built China into their supply chains, enjoying low labour costs and gaining a presence in a... Continue reading


10. Can refugees help to plug Europe’s skilled-labour gaps?Чт., 14 июня[−]

THE canteen of Stockholm University could scarcely be more Swedish. Young blond students sip coffee and tap away on Macs. In room 3.89, an outpost of the campus, is another, newer Sweden. Refugees, all of them teachers, from lands far to the south and east are preparing for the classrooms of their new home. Several keep their coats on as Khadije Obeid takes them through the basics of the curriculum and shows a YouTube clip about education law. “In Syria the teacher has much authority,” says Samer, an English teacher, as he raises his hand above his head. “Here he is equal to the students,” he adds as he lowers it.

The ten women and seven men are on a “fast-track” programme for refugees with experience in occupations where labour is short. As well as learning Swedish, they get 26 weeks of daily classes, teaching practice and mentoring. The hope is that they will then train or, if their previous qualifications are recognised, go straight to the classroom. The government is running some 30... Continue reading


11. How to play ArgentinaЧт., 14 июня[−]

THERE is a type of footballer who inspires the affection of fans and the ire of coaches. He is talented, usually extravagantly so. But he is also wayward to the same lavish degree. Discipline seems beyond him, on or off the pitch. It was said of one of this kind, Stan Bowles of Queens Park Rangers and England, that if he could pass a betting shop as well as he passed a ball he’d be a rich man.

Which brings us, naturally, to Argentina—not to its footballers, who have mostly fulfilled their potential, but to its economy, which has not. A century ago, it was the country of the future. It betrayed that promise without ever quite extinguishing hopes that it might eventually live up to it. Like a talented but troublesome sportsman, it keeps being given another chance. The board of the IMF will soon approve a $50bn support package for Argentina. It has had countless such programmes in the past without much changing. The fund is betting that this time is different. Should investors make a similar... Continue reading


12. How open is America?Чт., 14 июня[−]

“JUSTIN has agreed to cut all tariffs and all trade barriers between Canada and the United States,” claimed President Donald Trump to laughter on June 8th, at the G7 summit in Quebec. The next day, in apparent seriousness, Mr Trump—who has slapped tariffs and quotas on imports of aluminium and steel from all the G7 countries, and others—called for unfettered trade within the group: “No tariffs, no barriers. That’s the way it should be.”

Over the next two days a more familiar Mr Trump reappeared. After Mr Trudeau said, at a post-summit press conference, that Canada would not be pushed around, he fired off a barrage of tweets calling him “very dishonest & weak”. He blasted Europe too. And he tweeted: “Sorry, we cannot let our friends, or enemies, take advantage of us on Trade anymore.”

Suspend disbelief and suppose that Mr Trump’s offer of a barrier-free world is serious. He may want to tear down tariffs and quotas out of a yearning for open markets and lower... Continue reading



 
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