Bershidsky on Europe: EU Growth Forecasts Down

Leonid Bershidsky is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the founding editor of the Russian business daily Vedomosti and founded the opinion website
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Here's today's look at some of the top stories on markets and politics in Europe:

EU slaps record fines on banks

A European antitrust investigation into the manipulation of Libor and Euribor interest rates is coming to a close. Next month, Royal Bank of Scotland, Societe Generate and Deutsche Bank are expected to pay fines to settle rate-fixing allegations against them. JP Morgan, HSBC and Credit Agricole will probably face formal charges. The EU competition authorities are allowed to fine companies a maximum of 10 percent of their annual revenues, and the combined fines could reach $6.75 billion at that rate. In reality, they will be lower, but they will definitely break the record for the biggest antitrust fine paid by a cartel in Europe, $2 billion. There seems to be no end to banks' woes this year: It is still too early to add up the total damage from all the scandals involving the fixing of interest and currency rates, insurance mis-selling and other misconduct. The final amount of fines to be paid is probably the biggest single uncertainty global banks now face.

European Commission lowers2014 growth forecast

The European Commission has released its latest economic forecast, lowering 2014 growth expectations from 1.2 percent to 1.1 percent. The Commission predicted unemployment will remain near the current levels for another two years and expressed pessimism about France's and Spain's pledges to bring down budget deficits by 2015. According to the forecasts, France's deficit will reach 3.7 percent instead of the promised 3 percent and Spain will face a budget shortfall of 6.6 percent instead of 4.1 percent. Germany's domestic demand will only grow 2 percent next year, and the country's trade surplus will remain at 6 percent of gross domestic product, the highest of any developed nation. The forecast suggests that the Commission believes the policies of Europe's biggest economies' will remain inefficient, self-serving or both. The forecast should serve as a warning to investors pouring money into Europe in expectation of a recovery. Next year they are more likely to see stagnation.

Public gets a glimpse of Munich art trove

German prosecutors and public officials revealed some of the 1400 works of art found in the apartment of a Munich resident under investigation for tax evasion. They include a previously unknown painting by Marc Chagall, a Canaletto drawing and some German expressionist masterpieces. There's more where those come from, including works by Picasso, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse and Kokoschka, but the prosecutors won't provide a list for fear that lawyers for Jewish families who lost art masterpieces to the Nazis will make frivolous claims. The investigators prefer to be told of specific missing works so they can check the descriptions against their find. They should open up and arrange an exhibition: Regardless of the claims and legal obstacles, the world should see this amazing artwork, apparently collected by Hildebrand Gurlitt, a dealer allowed by the Nazis to sell art removed from German museums because it was "degenerate."

Adecco sees pickup in European temp hiring

Swiss group Adecco, the world's biggest staffing agency, reported unexpectedly good third quarter results, its profit reaching $258 million, much higher than analysts' predictions of about $185 million. According to the company, the improvement was caused in part by a return to growth in temp hiring in some major European economies, notably Germany, Italy and Spain. In France, Adecco's biggest market, a decline continued but slowed. The temp company's results are a comment on the quality of recent European growth: Companies are still extremely cost-conscious and reluctant to hire full-time staff, choosing instead to use more "flexible labor."

Ukraine signs shale deal with Chevron

Ukraine signed its second major contract for shale gas development, this time with Chevron, which will invest $350 million in exploration in Western Ukraine. Eventually, if estimates of bumper shale gas reserves are confirmed, Chevron will invest up to $10 billion in gas production. President Viktor Yanukovych expects the country's production sharing deals with Shell and Chevron to make Ukraine independent from Russian gas by 2020. That would ensure Ukraine's split from Russia's sphere of influence as it moves gradually toward EU membership. The dream, however, may go up in smoke if the shale reserves do not materialize, as has often been the case with previous exploration projects. Development will also face protests from locals, who believe fracking could ruin the environment in some of Ukraine's most beautiful areas.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

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Leonid Bershidsky at