US Markets Hold Gains, but Champagne Sales Fizzle in Europe

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U.S. markets hold on to gains midday. What accounted for the sudden revival in confidence? While Alcoa, with its comments on steady aluminum demand and growth in autos and aerospace, was a help, it was clearly the comments from European Central Bank board member Benoit Coeure that the ECB stood ready to begin buying Spanish bonds that was the main catalyst for the turnaround, certainly in Europe.

A new growth plan for Europe? Lots of chatter about a report being readied by the European Commission (the executive body of the European Union) to push pro-growth labor policies. The plan will reportedly remove restrictions on labor movement within the EU.

This is good and bad news. Good news, because it's about time the EU got away from austerity and moved toward promoting pro-growth policies.

Bad news, because migration — and that is what we are talking about — is a politically very touchy issue, particularly in France, where there are still restrictions on, for example, Eastern Europeans migrating to look for work.

It will also revive the anti-EU crowd, who will say, "Look at these bureaucrats in Brussels! First they want to regulate the national budgets, now they want to take over the labor laws! What's next!"

Indeed. Like it or not, there's little doubt that "more Europe, not less Europe" (as Angela Merkel famously remarked) is where the continent is headed.

But I heard the 2002 was drinking so well! Forget drooping bond prices: Champagne shipments are fizzling in Europe, but up elsewhere. Another sign of the endless crisis: Global champagne shipments were down 0.9 percent in February, the fourth straight monthly decline, according to Barclays. More importantly, sales year-to-date are down 14.2 percent in Europe, while shipments to countries outside Europe are UP 9.6 percent.

Who says there's no such thing as bifurcation?

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