Take Five: NATO – dead or alive?

Beneath the birthday bonhomie, tensions will be simmering as the transatlantic military alliance turns 70 and leaders of the 29 member states celebrate near London on Dec. 3-4.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s gripes about having to “subsidise” Europe is forcing it to contribute more, while French president Emmanuel Macron has ruffled feathers by calling NATO “brain dead” and suggesting a “strategic relationship” with Russia.

Expect heated debate over Turkey’s threat to vote against a defence plan for the Baltics and Poland unless NATO recognises the Kurdish YPG militia as terrorists. Unlikely, given the YPG helped defeat Islamic State. So how do they pacify Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan while keeping the YPG on side?

And summit host Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hope Trump does not wade into the British election, which could be exploited by the opposition. Johnson seems assured of a majority and will not want to take chances just a week before polling.

As for NATO’s future role, the summit is will ask a group of “wise persons” to come up with suggestions, but they won’t report until the next summit in late-2021.

NATO alliance and partnerships in Europe IMG – here

Reuters Graphic


South American leaders of the MERCOSUR trade bloc gathering in Brazil’s Bento Gonçalvea on Thursday to discuss tariffs won’t be short of talking points.

Waves of violent protest and social discontent sweeping across Latin America have already brought down Bolivia’s government and pushed currencies from Chile to Colombia to record lows while showing little sign of abating.

Brazil has so far avoided such unrest but its currency, the real, is at record lows, forcing authorities to intervene. Chile’s central bank is selling dollars amid the worst month for the peso since 2011 and an interest rate cut that was priced for December may now be in doubt.

There is no sign of relief for Venezuela where the economy is contracting at double-digit rates. Finally, popular discontent has helped elect a centre-left president in Argentina who will have to deal with a suffocating debt burden.

Brazil economic snapshot – here

Reuters Graphic


U.S. job creation has slowed this year, running around 167,000 per month, a quarter below the 2018 average. Still there’s no real sign that unemployment rates, near a 50-year low, are set to rise significantly. Non-farm payrolls, due on Dec. 6 are forecast to show 183,000 jobs were created in November, rebounding from October’s 128,000. Though the October figures were likely skewed by a workers’ strike at General Motors.

A forecast-beating number could further boost Wall Street where stocks have repeatedly hit record highs. But markets are on the look out for any signs of weakness; after all, labour markets are “not that strong everywhere”, UBS economists note, pointing to pockets of manufacturing and agriculture weakness.

US Non-Farm payrolls – here

Reuters Graphic


Manufacturing surveys will offer a checkup on Asia’s trade-war wounds, with the consensus forecast for a seventh straight month of shrinking factory activity in China, pressured by sluggish domestic demand and limp exports.

But the devil lurks in the detail. Caixin’s PMI, a separate survey with a focus on smaller businesses, is expected to show a fourth straight month of expansion, which would leave a picture that looks increasingly like a two-speed economy.

Big industry, dominated by lumbering state enterprises is shrinking, while private juggernauts such as Tencent, Alibaba and smaller e-commerce firms are soaring. Yet economic planners are biding their time, perhaps wary of creating a 2015-style runaway gravy train. While moves to ease monetary policy have so far been tentative, the PMIs may provide an additional push.

China’s Industrial profits shrinking – here

Reuters Graphic


Dec. 5 is shaping up to be a big day for oil markets. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) gathers for a policy meeting and the same day, OPEC’s biggest producer Saudi Arabia will give the final pricing for the IPO of state oil firm Aramco.

The IPO will be the elephant in the OPEC meeting room because the oil price at the time will be key to the listing, expected in mid-December.

A year ago, OPEC and non-OPEC countries agreed to lower crude supply by 1.2 million barrels per day to prop up prices in the face of slowing oil demand. In July they extended that deal until March 2020.

Seasoned OPEC-watchers know never to exclude the possibility of a surprise decision but sources within the group seem pretty sure the supply-cut pact will be extended further into 2020. After all, an oil price tumble is something the Saudis won’t want to risk just as the Aramco shares list.

Oil faces strong headwinds – here

Reuters Graphic

Reporting by Sujata Rao, Karin Strohecker and Veronica Brown in London; Tom Westbrook in Singapore and Megan Davies in New York; Editing by Alexander Smith



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