The European Central Bank is worried about inflation - shouldn't we be too?

A monetary union without fiscal union, combined with the aftermath of a credit splurge and then vicious retrenchment, was always going to create austere conditions and unemployment - the end of which is deflation.

This is the chilling conclusion one might draw from the fact that even the ECB has now got the message and has begun to reinforce its forward guidance that rates will still be at present levels or lower for a considerable period of time. Yet even now we didn't get the Full Monty - a move to negative deposit rates is what the peripheral countries now desperately need. Before they joined the Euro they would have been able to regain some degree of competitiveness via devaluation - now the only way out for them is mass, long-term unemployment, while structural reforms to their labour markets take hold - if they ever do. A cut in the Depo rate would begin to seriously weaken the Euro, replicating the pre-Euro solution for the periphery.

After a shock to the system as large as the credit crisis, perhaps the real surprise is that this has taken so long to become evident; the scale of the inevitable de-leveraging process that was always going to have to take place would classically suggest this outcome, but then we have to add to the mix the fact that the Eurozone (13.5 per cent of global GDP in 2012), is saddled with a massively deflationary economic experiment, in the shape of the Euro.

One has to say the whole thing is becoming painfully reminiscent of the Bank of Japan's failure to take bold steps in the face of the imminent arrival of deflation in the 1990s, despite the yen’s ludicrous strength.  

A monetary union without fiscal union, combined with the aftermath of a credit splurge and then vicious retrenchment, was always going to create austere conditions and unemployment - the end of which is deflation. This is now spreading even to the core. This week's CPI figures in Germany and France will be absolutely key. Japanisation is the real danger for Europe now, and the same could start to be true in the US too, unless we see an uptick in core inflation soon. The core PCE (Personal Consumption Expenditure) deflator - the Fed’s preferred inflation measure - stands at 1.2 per cent year on year.

The establishment survey part of Friday’s US employment reports certainly contained some crumbs of comfort, but I find it hard to believe the balance of views on the FOMC will be sufficiently shifted by one set of figures, or even just by the hopefully untainted report next month, to bring tapering forward to the December meeting. Optimists also latched onto last week’s first reading of Q3 GDP, at +2.8 per cent, as another positive, but the bulk of the surprise came from a large increase in inventories; always a double-edged sword-were inventories climbing because of falling demand right now, or because manufacturers foresaw increased demand in the future? Either way the likely give-back in this quarter means growth is heading for only 1.5 per cent in Q4.

Finally though, Fed politics also mitigate against December tapering. It seems pretty clear that QE is seen as yielding diminishing returns and the monetary tool du jour is now forward guidance (love it, or think it’s dangerous like me), and the Fed would like to strengthen theirs by lowering the employment threshold for rate rises from 6.5 per cent to at least 6.0 per cent, probably 5.5 per cent. This is a normal human reaction to the scare of their lives that the Fed got this summer as 10-year yields exploded from 1.6 per cent to 3.0 per cent, slowing the housing market and dragging higher the shorter term rates that the Fed would have us believe are anchored for years to come. I believe we won’t now see QE without this enhancement of forward guidance.

With a change of Chairman coming up and wholesale changes in Fed voters six weeks after the next Fed meeting, (both Regional President rotations and new Fed Governors), this strengthening of forward guidance will look very suspect if it takes place in December and is just inherited by the "new" FOMC in January. Forward guidance is, by definition, a promise; and one of a very personal nature.

Graffiti covers a fence around the construction site of the new headquarters of the European Central Bank on August 30, 2013 in Frankfurt, Germany. Photograph: Getty Images.

Chairman of  Saxo Capital Markets Board

An Honours Graduate from Oxford University, Nick Beecroft has over 30 years of international trading experience within the financial industry, including senior Global Markets roles at Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank and Citibank. Nick was a member of the Bank of England's Foreign Exchange Joint Standing Committee.

More of his work can be found here.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.