On 30 September, the Council of the European Union agreed to impose an EU-wide windfall profits tax on fossil fuel companies to fund relief for households and businesses facing high energy prices (due primarily to Putin’s war on Ukraine).
Given the dire economic environment for families and the urgency to transition away from Russian energy, extracting profits from fossil fuel companies to transfer to needy households sounds like killing two birds with one stone. It might even sound fair in a year when oil companies are making record profits because of higher energy prices.
Unfortunately, it’s not sound policy. If history is any indicator, it will only make these goals harder to achieve.
The tax (or “Solidarity Contribution” in EU-speak) is calculated on taxable profits starting in 2022 and/or 2023, depending on national tax rules, that are above a 20 percent increase of the average yearly taxable profits since 2018. The EU anticipates the policy will raise about €140 billion.
For months, I have been confident that Europe would suffer a financial crisis and a depression, as in a real economy catastrophe accompanied by a market crash. It might not be as severe and lasting as 1929, but the breadth would mean there would not be 1987 quick bounceback nor a 2008 derivatives crisis concentrated at the heart of the banking system. Even though that looked like financial near-death experience, the same factors that made it more acute in many respects also made it easier for the officialdom to identify and shore up the key institutions that took hits below the water line.
That view was based simply on the level of damage Europe seemed determined to suffer via the effect of sanctions blowback on supplies of Russian gas. There are additional de facto and self restrictions on Russian commodities via sanctions on Russian banks and warniness about dealing with Russian ships and counterparties. For instance, Russian fertilizer is not sanctioned; indeed, the US made a point of clearing its throat a couple of months back to say so. Yet that does not solve the problem African (and likely other) buyers suffer They had accounts with now-sanctioned Russian banks and have been unable to come up with good replacement arrangements.
Another major stressor is the dollar’s moon shot. It increased the cost of oil in local currency terms, making inflation even worse. It also will produce pressure, and potentially defaults, in any foreign dollar debtor because he local currency cost of interest payments will rise. Given the generally high state of nervousness in financial markets, anyone who had been expected to roll maturing debt will be in a world of hurt (Satyajit Das in a recent post pointed out that investors typically don’t expect emerging market borrowers to repay).
Yet another big concern is hidden leverage, particularly from derivatives. A sudden rise in short term interest rates and increased volatility can blow up derivative counterparties. It’s already happening with European utility companies, many of whom are so badly impaired as to need bailouts.
And the failure of regulators to get tough with banks in the post-crisis period is coming home to roost. Nick Corbishley wrote about how Credit Suisse went from being a supposedly savvy risk manage to more wobbly than Deutsche Bank due to getting itself overly-enmeshed in the Archegos “family office” meltdown and then the Greensill “supply chain finance” scam. Archegos demonstrated a lack of regulatory interest in “total return swaps” which in simple terms allow speculators to create highly leveraged equity exposures. Highly leveraged equity exposures was what gave the world the 1929 crash. The very existence of this product shows the degree to which the officialdom has unlearned big and costly lessons.
The Governing Council today decided to raise the three key ECB interest rates by 75 basis points. This major step frontloads the transition from the prevailing highly accommodative level of policy rates towards levels that will ensure the timely return of inflation to our two per cent medium-term target. Based on our current assessment, over the next several meetings we expect to raise interest rates further to dampen demand and guard against the risk of a persistent upward shift in inflation expectations.
Inflation remains far too high and is likely to stay above our target for an extended period. According to Eurostat’s flash estimate, inflation reached 9.1 per cent in August. Soaring energy and food prices, demand pressures in some sectors owing to the reopening of the economy, and supply bottlenecks are still driving up inflation.
Price pressures have continued to strengthen and broaden across the economy and inflation may rise further in the near term.
Very high energy prices are reducing the purchasing power of people’s incomes and, although supply bottlenecks are easing, they are still constraining economic activity. In addition, the adverse geopolitical situation, especially Russia’s unjustified aggression towards Ukraine, is weighing on the confidence of businesses and consumers.
“This is surely unworkable – a carve out for Hungary, which allows its refineries to enjoy sky rocketing margins on sales elsewhere in the EU because of their access to Russian crude. It’s almost laughable,” said Jeremy Warner.
It seems the carve out for Hungary was “workable” after all, with predictable results.
Russia, China, Hungary, and energy producers are the beneficiaries of these terribly counterproductive sanctions.
This is my “Hoot of the Day” but it’s early. I may easily need bonus hoots.
Since the 1990s, Italian leaders have tried to overhaul the sclerotic economy while also running tight budgets. Mr. Draghi is the first in decades who can deploy massive fiscal firepower to help.
Italy’s economy has rarely grown by more than 1% annually over the past quarter-century. The economy has never fully recovered from the global financial crisis and subsequent eurozone crisis, and slumped by another 9% in 2020 amid the pandemic and strict lockdowns.
Germany, France and other EU countries backed the recovery fund mainly for fear that Italy and Southern Europe could get stuck in another deep economic slump that once again tests the cohesion and survival of the eurozone.
Most of Greece’s debt is in bailout loans from the rest of the eurozone, with no repayments due for many years, making another Greek debt crisis unlikely for a long time.
Life expectancy at birth has been increasing over the past decade in the EU: official statistics reveal that life expectancy has risen, on average, by more than two years per decade since the 1960s. However, the latest available data suggest that life expectancy stagnated or even declined in recent years in several EU Member States.
Moreover, following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, life expectancy at birth fell in the vast majority of the EU Member States with available 2020 data. The largest decreases were recorded in Spain (-1.6 years compared with 2019) and Bulgaria (-1.5), followed by Lithuania, Poland and Romania (all -1.4).
Life expectancy across much of the European Union has dropped last year, as the 27-nation bloc struggled with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The EU statistical agency Eurostat said Wednesday that “following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, life expectancy at birth fell in the vast majority of the EU member states.” It said the biggest drop was in Spain, with a loss of 1.6 years compared with 2019.
Bulgaria followed with a loss of 1.5 years, followed by Lithuania, Poland and Romania, which all saw a drop of -1.4 years. Denmark and Finland were the only nations to see a rise in life expectancy, with 0.1 years.
Supported by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, the EU Commission (its administrative arm) took over the negotiations with vaccine manufacturers on behalf of all EU member-states last June. This was designed both as a declaration of EU “solidarity” and because of the belief that bargaining on behalf of the whole bloc could secure the vaccine at a cheaper price, a calculation that appeared to take little account of the economic costs of any delays, and delay was what — for a variety of reasons — Brussels delivered.
The U.K. came to its deal with AstraZeneca (the manufacturer of the Oxford vaccine) three months earlier than the EU, and its contract came with sharper teeth. The EU also took four months longer than the U.K. and U.S. to sign up with Pfizer.
Making matters worse, the EU’s FDA, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), a body by definition particularly receptive to the precautionary principle that plays such a dominant role in EU policy-making (except when it comes to setting up a new currency), took its time to approve the first vaccines. Its first approval came some weeks after the U.K. and ten days or so after the U.S.
Europe’s reluctance to distribute millions of doses of AstraZeneca PLC’s Covid-19 vaccine is coming under pressure after the French government authorized use of the shot for some older people.
The French government announced it would allow people with comorbidities between the ages of 65 and 74 to receive the vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca. New data from the U.K. on Monday showed just one dose of the vaccine was effective in preventing disease and deaths among adults aged 70 and older who had received it.
France’s move was a sharp departure from a month ago when President Emmanuel Macron told reporters that the vaccine was quasi ineffective for people older than 65, without providing evidence to back up his claim. The comments helped sow doubts across the European Union that still persist.