Bershidsky on Europe: Exit Ireland, Spain
Here's today's look at some of the top stories on markets and politics in Europe:
Euro area GDP almost flat in Q3
After a good second quarter, which prompted international investors to increase exposure to European stocks and bonds, the euro area saw only 0.1 percent economic growth in the third quarter of 2013, or 0.4 percent on an annualized basis. The poor result is due to a slowdown in Germany, whose gross domestic product increased 0.3 percent compared to 0.8 percent in the previous quarter, and negative growth of 0.1 percent in France. The overall stagnation, however, is no reason for renewed pessimism. Italy's economy lost only 0.1 percent of GDP, after shrinking for nine consecutive quarters, suggesting that its recession is nearing an end. The Netherlands is out of recession, and so is Spain, showing positive growth for the first time since 2011. In the broader EU, only the Czech Republic surprised with a 0.5 percent drop, while other Eastern European nations, such as Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Poland showed relatively healthy growth. If France and Italy find the political will to stimulate growth, Europe as a whole will do better in the last quarter of the year and in 2014.
Ireland and Spain make clean exit from bailout
Euro area finance ministers said Ireland and Spain will leave their bailout programs without additional credit lines or conditions attached. Ireland, which received $114 billion after its banking sector imploded in 2010, will officially emerge from the bailout on Dec. 15 and return to financial markets early next year. For Spain, which drew $55 billion from the euro area's bailout fund to recapitalize its banks, the aid program ends in January 2014. Both countries are out of recession, too. The bailout programs were expensive, but apparently successful. If similar exercises still under way in Portugal and Cyprus - where the bailout is taking place on much harsher terms - prove similarly effective, the existence of the euro area will receive its most convincing justification to date.
Germany to publish Nazi trove list
Two years after discovering 1400 valuable art works in the apartment of a Munich resident suspected of tax evasion, the German government is finally moving on establishing the provenance of the works and, potentially, restoring some of them to the families of Holocaust victims. A special government task force formed to investigate the art cache said it would start releasing a list of 590 works, believed to be looted by the Nazis, next week. The public has so far seen photos of only 25 works from the trove, so the announcement is a major first step toward revealing the scope of one of the biggest private art collections in the world, one in which far from all the works rightfully belong to the collector. After hesitating for too long, the German authorities are finally doing the right thing.
French market regulator fines bloggers for false rumors
The French Financial Markets Authority (AMF) made the unprecedented decision to fine two bloggers for spreading inaccurate information about Societe Generale's debt burden in 2011. Jean-Pierre Chevallier, a former finance professor, has been ordered to pay $13,460, and U.S. investment advisor Mike Shedlock who reported Chevallier's data on his blog, was slapped with a $10,770 fine. The AMF decided that Chevallier, because of his qualifications, had to realize that Societe Generale was not in fact over-leveraged, as he claimed. Thus, he was found guilty of knowingly distributing misinformation. Though it came at a bad moment for the markets, soon after the Standard & Poor's downgrade of U.S. debt, Chevallier's post did not seriously affect SocGen's stock price. The AMF, nevertheless, decided to press charges to make an example of Chevallier and Shedlock. It's a good idea to be responsible for what you write on your blog, but even a professor can make an honest mistake once in a while, and punishing re-posters is ridiculous: Sharing is in the nature of social interaction on the Internet. Let's hope fining bloggers doesn't become a habit.
Putin puts Medvedev in his place
While Russian President Vladimir Putin was away on a tour of Asia, Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev had the temerity to disagree with Putin's proposal that Russian police be allowed to initiate tax evasion charges. During his tour as president in 2008-2012, Medvedev eliminated the practice, deciding it gave police a lucrative opportunity to harass private business. Now Putin wants to bring it back, because he thinks too few tax investigations are going on. Upon his return from the trip, Putin lashed out against Medvedev, saying, "There is a certain established practice of resolving issues before going to the press. It is known that if somebody disagrees with something...he can move on to join the expert community." Many observers in Russia interpreted this as a sign of Medvedev's imminent dismissal, though little will change whether he resigns or stays on: Putin makes all the important decisions and, increasingly, the unimportant ones, too.
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Leonid Bershidsky at email@example.com