I’m writing this from Rome, where Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi just stepped down as leader of the centre-left Partito Democratico. Italian politics, once again, faces chaos.
Renzi previously resigned as Premier, having lost a botched referendum on constitutional change last December. Once tipped as Italy’s political savior, the 42-year old former Mayor of Florence must now win a renewed leadership battle if he is to restore his political credibility.
The oil price collapsed last Monday after an acrimonious meeting of the Opec exporters’ cartel. Having been above $105 a barrel as recently as June 2014, US crude fell to $37.65. That represents a 64pc drop in just 18 months – to the lowest level since the worst of the global financial crisis in February 2009.
Oil plunged again last Thursday, moving below $37 – amid further evidence that Opec’s 12 member states, from the mighty Saudi Arabia to tiny Ecuador, are cracking up. After staying well above $40 a barrel for months, crude has now crashed decisively through that psychological lower bound. Now it’s been breached, there’s widespread speculation crude could tumble much further – maybe even as low as $20.
“Brazil faces worst recession since the 1930s”. “Chinese growth falls to a three-year low”.
The financial press is full of doom-laden headlines about emerging markets (EMs) – which is hardly surprising. After rallying strongly following the 2008 financial crisis, share indices across Asia, Eastern Europe and South America have spent the last few years largely in the doldrums – reflecting not just slower economic growth but also the actions of Western central banks.
I was delighted to take part in the Kilkenomics 2013 – aka “Davos with laughs”. This fantastic festival combines serious economic debate with raucous comedy, and is the brain-child of Richard Cook and David McWilliams
So what if it’s totally unclear whether or not a second Greek bail-out will be agreed tomorrow? So what if, after a week of particularly nasty rioting, parts of Athens now resemble a “Mad Max” film-set? So what if the German cabinet, at the highest level, is split on whether or not Greece should default? So what that nobody can possibly know if such a default would be “orderly” or “disorderly”, with global markets remaining sanguine or unleashing months – years – of pent-up frustration?
So what if Greek a payment failure could send bond prices in other eurozone member states plummeting, spreading “contagion” across Western Europe and beyond? So what if the German cabinet’s disagreement over what to do is, in fact, only the sub-plot of deeper political schism between Germany itself and France?
This weekend, with the Greek Parliament staging a dramatic “make-or-break” vote on monetary union, it would be easy to lose sight of what’s happening in the UK. Events in the eurozone are dramatic, to say the least. Those who talked breathlessly of “a resolution” are being forced to think again. During the first five weeks of 2012, granted, global equities posted their best opening to any year since 1987. Was this the start of a genuine recovery, though, or just a Suckers’ rally?
The answer could hinge on what’s now taking place in Athens. Or, at least, if the deal finally forged between private sector Greek creditors, eurozone governments and the European Central Bank isn’t absolutely credible, the recent rally could quickly go into reverse.