July 11, 2018 / 7:45 AM / 8 months ago

Daily Briefing: Trump in Europe - the awkward guest

LONDON (Reuters) - European leaders will look with some trepidation to Donald Trump's visit to Europe starting at the NATO summit in Brussels today.

U.S. President Donald Trump and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg attend a bilateral breakfast ahead of the NATO Summit in Brussels, July 11, 2018

Ahead of the trip, he has accused alliance members of being "delinquent" on defence spending; referred to the "turmoil" he expects to encounter on his next stop in the Brexit-embroiled UK; and suggested his Helsinki talks with Vladimir Putin might be the easiest part of the itinerary.

So I have NATO, I have the UK which is in somewhat turmoil, and I have Putin. Frankly Putin may be the easiest of them all. Who would think?

As far as NATO is concerned, the paradox is that this comes as the bloc has found new unity in combating the perceived threat from Russia and is set to expand further eastwards with Macedonia finally being ushered in as a member.

Yet Trump is shining a harsh spotlight on the long-standing imbalance in NATO country military budgets, with only the U.S., Britain, Poland and Estonia hitting the agreed target of spending two percent of GDP on defence.

Perhaps he is betting that his way of applying pressure will work where it has failed for past US presidents. Following June’s disastrous G7 meeting, which ended in division when Trump rejected the final summit statement, NATO envoys have carefully negotiated the main components of the Brussels summit communique days ahead. But as one said: “He can nullify everything with a tweet.”

The Czech parliament is expected to back today the new, centre-left minority cabinet led by billionaire Andrej Babis and including his ANO party and the centre-left Social Democrats. Babis's party won an election last October but has been unable to form a parliamentary majority as most parties reject working with him while he faces a police investigation of alleged fraud, which he denies.

Its fate depends on the pro-Russian, anti-NATO Communist Party whose votes are needed to form a majority. The Communists have agreed to provide support - the weeks and months ahead will see what price they extract for their backing.


It’s been a case of one step forward, one step back again for world markets this week – today’s knockback coming courtesy of the latest salvo in the U.S.-China trade war.

The detailing overnight of President Trump’s already threatened 10 percent tariff on an additional $200 billion of Chinese goods took the wind out investors’ sails largely because the central scenario for many in the markets is that Washington will eventually step back from this escalating row and settle for some compromise.

The more it turns up the heat therefore, the more likely the tariffs get implemented – just like the 25 percent levies on $34 billion of each others imports both sides triggered on Friday. The clock now starts ticking on a two-month period of public comment on the latest proposed list before the tariffs get imposed. Trump has said he may ultimately target more than $500 billion worth of Chinese goods - roughly the total amount of U.S. imports from China last year.

Trump visits Europe this week and attends the NATO summit in Brussels today, heads to the UK on Friday and meets Russian President Putin in Helsinki on July 16. Global business confidence has held up remarkably well despite the row, although there have been signs of anxiety – as with the July German ZEW survey out yesterday – and the upcoming Q2 earnings season may start to see some related profit warnings emerging.

Unsurprisingly, Shanghai markets were hardest hit overnight – with stocks there down almost 2 percent and the yuan weakening again towards last week’s lows, down 0.4 percent to 6.66 per dollar. Rather ominously, China’ foreign exchange regulator warned Chinese firms on Wednesday that they should hedge currency risks from the yuan’s increased fluctuations.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was down more than 1 percent too, as was Japan’s Nikkei as the yen received something of a ‘safety’ bid. Seoul’s Kospi outperformed, but was also down 0.6 percent.

The Australian dollar, often seen as a liquid proxy for Chinese economic fortunes, fell 0.6 percent. Other bellwethers of global growth were also affected, with copper prices dropping 4 percent to their lowest in almost a year.

Ten-year U.S. Treasury yields fell about 4 basis points to 2.83 percent, with the 2-10 year yield curve flattening again close to 11-year lows around 27 basis points. Wall St stock futures slipped back 0.75 percent after the S&P500 had climbed to four-month highs late Tuesday before the tariff announcement.

U.S. Q2 corporate earnings get underway in earnest on Friday and aggregate annual profit growth is expected to come in at more than 20 percent. European stocks are expected to open about 0.7 percent lower too.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel hold a news conference with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki (unseen) during the Western Balkans Summit 2018 at Lancaster House in London, July 10, 2018

Euro/dollar was slightly lower, with European Central Bank chief Draghi and several other senior ECB officials speaking later in the day. Sterling was steady as attention shifts from the weekend’s Brexit developments and UK cabinet resignations to whether the Bank of England will feel confident enough to raise interest rates next month. BoE chief Carney speaks later today in Boston.

Turkey’s lira and debt markets remain on edge after this week’s Turkish cabinet announcements. Turkish Eurobonds nudged lower and local benchmark yields flirted with record highs.

— A look at the day ahead from European Economics and Politics Editor Mark John and EMEA markets editor Mike Dolan. The views expressed are their own —

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