Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The leaders of the Czech Republic and Hungary say a "joint European army" is needed to bolster security in the EU.  They were speaking ahead of talks in Warsaw with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. They dislike her welcome for Muslim migrants from outside the EU.  Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban said "we must give priority to security, so let's start setting up a joint European army".  The UK government has strongly opposed any such moves outside Nato's scope. The Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Slovak leaders are coordinating their foreign policy as the "Visegrad Group". Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said building a joint European army would not be easy, but he called for discussion to start on it.  The EU has joint defence capabilities in the form of 1,500-strong battle groups, but they have not been tested in combat yet.  Last year European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for a European army to give the EU muscle in confronting threats from Russia or elsewhere.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Business confidence in Europe's biggest economy, Germany, has fallen unexpectedly after the UK Brexit vote, according to a closely watched survey.  The Ifo business confidence index, based on about 7,000 company responses, fell to 106.2 points for August from 108.3 in July.  It was the steepest monthly fall in more than four years and took the index to its lowest since December 2014.
Despite the gloom, the euro was up slightly against the pound and dollar  The latest drop follows a much smaller decline in confidence in July immediately after the UK voted to leave the EU.  Economist Carsten Brzeski at ING-DiBa said the ongoing decline "suggests that German businesses have suddenly woken up to Brexit reality".  "It is not the first time that the Ifo reacts with a delay of one or two months to global events,'' he said, adding that at present, the German economy remained in a "virtuous circle".  Across the sectors it examines, the Ifo found confidence had fallen in all but construction and services.  "The German economy has fallen into a summer slump," Ifo president Clemens Fuest said.  Other official figures released earlier this month showed the German economy grew 0.4% in the second quarter compared with the previous three-month period.  That was a slower pace than the 0.7% growth in the first quarter, but double what economists had expected.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Hundreds of aftershocks have rocked devastated areas of central Italy, hampering search efforts after a deadly earthquake.  A strong tremor with magnitude 4.3 struck on Thursday afternoon, sending rescuers fleeing from already fragile buildings.  About 5,000 rescue workers are combing through rubble for survivors using heavy machinery or bare hands.  At least 250 people are now known to have died after Wednesday's quake.  The 6.2-magnitude quake hit at 03:36 (01:36 GMT), 100km (65 miles) north-east of Rome in mountainous central Italy.  More than 300 people have been treated in hospital and dozens are believed to be trapped under rubble.  Worst affected are the towns of Amatrice, Arquata, Accumoli and Pescara del Tronto.  The towns are usually sparsely populated but have been swelled by tourists visiting for summer, making estimates for the precise number missing difficult.  The hunt for survivors continued throughout Wednesday night and into Thursday. With many buildings unsafe, some people were forced to sleep in their cars or in tents.
Search teams have asked locals to disable their wi-fi passwords to help efforts.
The Italian Red Cross says residents' home networks can assist with communications during the search for survivors.  Rescuers have advised journalists and bystanders to leave Amatrice urgently, as "the town is crumbling", the BBC's Jenny Hill says.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The drama of Brexit may soon be matched or eclipsed by crystallizing events in France, where the Long Slump is at last taking its political toll.  A democracy can endure deflation policies for only so long. The attrition has wasted the French centre-right and the centre-left by turns, and now threatens the Fifth Republic itself.  The maturing crisis has echoes of 1936, when the French people tired of 'deflation decrees' and turned to the once unthinkable Front Populaire, smashing what remained of the Gold Standard.  Former Gaulliste president Nicolas Sarkozy has caught the headlines this week, launching a come-back bid with a package of hard-Right policies unseen in a western European democracy in modern times.  But the uproar on the Left is just as revealing. Arnaud Montebourg, the enfant terrible of the Socialist movement, has launched his own bid for the Socialist Party with a critique of such ferocity that it bears examination.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

France has a host of home-grown economic woes that have nothing to do with the EU. The social model is funded by punitive taxes on employing labour, creating one of the worst 'tax wedges' in the world.  A quarter of French aged 60-64 are in work – compared with 40pc for the OECD average – due to early retirement incentives. The state consumes 56pc of GDP, a Nordic level without Nordic labour flexibility.  There are 360 separate taxes, some predating the revolution. Trade unions have a legal lockhold on companies with over 50 employees, yet command 7pc of membership. "It is an inferno that sadly lacks the poetry of Dante," says Prof Brigitte Granville, a french economist at Queen Mary University London.
Hard reforms were put off by leaders of all parties. They coasted through the boom years of the euro, and now it is too late. France is trapped within the straight-jacket of monetary union. The International Monetary Fund's health check in June said the 'real effective exchange rate' is up to 9pc overvalued. It is roughly 16pc overvalued against Germany. The only practical way France can claw back competitiveness is through deeper deflation than in the rest of the eurozone, but this would prolong the slump and play havoc with nominal GDP and debt dynamics. It would be self-defeating.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Oil has finally found a strong bull in Savita Subramanian, commodity strategist at BofA Merrill Lynch, who believes oil will rally to $54 a barrel by this year-end and continue its march higher to touch $69 a barrel by June of next year.  The commodity team led by Savita has upgraded the energy sector to outperform. The analysts have added Devon Energy to the firm’s US 1 list and raised ratings on four other stocks.  “Oil production continues to fall as global oil & gas investment has been cut by nearly $300bn (41%) and rig counts have dropped by 37% since the 2014 peak. In contrast, low oil prices continue to drive healthy demand growth, putting the oil market on pace to see its biggest supply-demand deficit since 2011,” the report noted. They estimate the shortfall to last through 2020, if prices remain below $80 a barrel.  The firm has raised the outlook for the energy sector from marketweight to overweight considering the following factors.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

List of stocks that have been upgraded by Merril Lynch
1. Marathon Oil Corp. (NYSE: MRO) to a buy from neutral, with a price target of $21, which is higher than the $18 consensus of various analysts. The new target price implies a gain of more than 33% from the current price of $15.7.
2. Noble Corporation PLC (NYSE: NE) from underweight to neutral. However, the target price of the stock is unchanged at $7.5, which is below the consensus target price of $8. The stock closed at $6.39 hitting a new multi-year low.
3. Patterson-UTI Energy Inc. (NASDAQ: PTEN) to neutral from underperform. The new target price on the stock is $22, whereas the consensus target price is also the same. The stock closed at $19.96.
4. Sasol LTD. (NYSE: SSL) to a buy from an earlier rating of neutral. While the consensus target price of the stock is $32.09, the stock closed the day at $27.71.
5. Devon Energy Corp. (NYSE: DVN) makes it to the US 1 list of top ideas for Merrill.
Notwithstanding, the valuations of the energy sector at 40 times its forward price-to-earnings (P/E) is more than double to the S&P 500’s forward P/E of 17, according to Yardeni Research.
Though the Merrill Lynch report agrees that “energy looks expensive on depressed earnings,” they believe that “higher oil prices should drive higher earnings estimates. Investors are still underweight the sector and the sector’s weight in the S&P 500 has fallen to historically bullish levels”.