News & Current Affairs

September 7, 2008

Global economy woes shake markets

Global economy woes shake markets

Japanese stock market trader

Japanese shares felt the force of the economic uncertainty

Fears about a global economic slowdown, heightened by worsening US job figures, have continued to undermine stock markets around the world.

London’s FTSE 100 index lost 2.3% – taking its weekly decline to 7% – its biggest since July 2002.

Markets in Paris and Frankfurt fell by 2.5% as economy concerns spread.

On Wall Street the Dow Jones index clawed back early losses to edge higher despite figures showing the US economy shed 84,000 jobs last month.

But the benchmark US index still had its worst week since May.

Earlier, Japan’s main share index fell nearly 3% while markets in Hong Kong, China, Australia and India all slid 2%.

‘Ugly’ data

The US labor market figures – which showed the unemployment rate rising to 6.1% – were a further jolt to investors who have had to swallow a slew of poor economic data in recent days.

Economists had been expecting 75,000 jobs to be lost while the government also revised upwards.

“This was an ugly number that pretty much confirms that our economy continues to trend downward,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer of Harris Private Bank.

“This just knocks the legs out of any hope of seeing much economic improvement right now.”

‘Uncertainty’

Amid the uncertainty, few investors are willing to buy
Masayuki Otani, Securities Japan

The FTSE 100 closed down 2.3% at 5,240.70 points. The last time it lost so much value in a week was more than six years ago in the wake of financial scandals such as Enron and WorldCom.

Markets in Paris and Frankfurt continued their recent downward trend, both the Cac-40 index and the Dax-30 dropping about 2.5%.

The Dow Jones index, which lost 3% on Thursday, rose 32.73 points, or 0.3% to 11,220.96, but still ended down 2.8% on the week.

“Given the fact we were down so much yesterday we’re seeing a bit of a reflex rally with investors wanting to take advantages of some of the bargains,” said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at Morgan Asset Management.

The Nasdaq index slipped 3.16 points, or 0.1% to 2,255.88, ending the week 4.7% lower.

Earlier Japan’s benchmark Nikkei index fell 361.54 points to 12,196.12 amid a widespread sell-off of shares in Asia.

The Hang Seng index fell more than 3% in Hong Kong while markets also fell sharply in China, Australia and India.

“Amid the uncertainty, few investors are willing to buy,” said Masayuki, Otani, chief market analyst at Securities Japan.

“Several bad things happened at once,” he added, explaining the fall.

Gloom

Worries about inflation have prevented central banks in Europe from cutting interest rates to help forestall a slowdown.

But analysts believe this could change soon with economic forecasts across Europe looking increasingly gloomy.

The European Central Bank cut its 2009 growth forecast from 1.5% to 1.2% on Thursday while the UK economy stalled in the second quarter.

In a separate development, the Russian rouble fell against the dollar a day after Russia’s central bank intervened to support the currency amid concerns about a flight of foreign capital after the conflict with Georgia.

The central bank sold up to $4bn in reserves, the Financial Times reported, after the rouble slipped to its lowest level since February 2007.

Advertisements

August 28, 2008

US GDP rebounds with 3.3% growth

US GDP rebounds with 3.3% growth

A US shopper

Tax rebates have encouraged consumers to spend more

The US economy grew at a revised 3.3% annually in the second quarter of 2008, the Commerce Department said, much higher than its first estimate of 1.9%.

The rebound was linked to strong US exports, helped by the weak dollar, while government tax rebates also boosted consumer spending.

GDP grew at a rate of 0.9% in the first quarter, after a 0.2% contraction in the last three months of 2007.

The Federal Reserve has warned the economy will remain weak this year.

“While we’re not out of the woods yet, maybe we’re beginning to see some sunlight,” said John Wilson, equity strategist at Morgan Keegan.

“At some point, the market will begin to look through the trough and gauge the strength of the coming upturn.”

‘No recession’

The data showed that exports grew at an annualized rate of 13.2%, higher than the government’s initial estimate of 9.2%.

Imports fell at a rate of 7.6% as the US economic slowdown reduced demands for goods made overseas.

The improved trade balance added 3.1 percentage points to second-quarter GDP, the biggest since 1980.

The slowdown in the housing market was evident, as builders cut back and businesses reduced their spending.

Consumer spending, boosted by the government’s $600 tax rebate payments, rose by 1.7%, slightly higher than the previous quarter’s 1.5%.

Some observers said that the figures lent support to the argument that the US was not heading for a recession.

“For a recession the economy is certainly growing very quickly,” said Avery Shenfeld, senior economist at CIBC World Markets.

“A lot of that growth is driven off exports and pessimists might say that can’t continue during slowing growth overseas.

“But I would say this happened precisely during the period of slowing growth overseas … this is still an economy that faces slow times but not a recession.”

16-year low

However recent data on the US housing market suggests a grim outlook for the sector.

US house prices were down a record 15.4% in the April to June quarter compared with a year ago, according to a closely-watched report released earlier this week.

The decline was recorded by the latest S&P/Case-Shiller survey of US national home prices.

The report said the fact that the falls were nationwide was the latest sign the US housing downturn is continuing.

Separate government data said sales of new homes were at an annual rate of 515,000 units in July, up slightly from June, but still near a 16-year low, and half the rate of new home sales one year ago.

August 26, 2008

German shopper mood remains weak

German shopper mood remains weak

Shoppers in Berlin

German consumers are not in an optimistic mood

German consumer confidence has fallen to a fresh five-year low, as recession and high inflation fears continue to sour the mood among shoppers.

The news came from market research firm GFK, whose forward-looking consumer confidence index has dipped to 1.5 points for September from August’s 2.1.

Further gloom was offered by restated official data which confirmed that the economy contracted from April to June.

Germany’s economic output fell 0.5% quarter-on-quarter in the period.

If this contraction was to continue between July and September, then Germany would formally be in recession.

‘Depressed mood’

Fueled by high energy and food costs, German inflation is continuing at its highest level since 1993, hitting household spending.

German companies are further being hit by high raw material costs, and in addition to lower domestic consumer spending, concerns remain the impact of a global economic slowdown.

The high value of the euro has also been a problem over the past year, although the dollar has rallied in recent weeks, offering some respite to German exporters.

“In addition to the continued price hikes for energy and fast moving consumer goods, expectations of weaker economic development are depressing the consumer mood in particular,” said the GFK report.

GFK surveys around 2,000 consumers for its monthly consumer confidence guide.

August 14, 2008

Sterling losses gather momentum

Sterling losses gather momentum

Graph

The pound has fallen further against the dollar, hitting its lowest level in almost two years amid fears the UK will fall into recession.

Sterling touched its lowest level since October 2006 at $1.8617 but later edged up to trade at $1.8691.

Measured against a basket of trade-weighted currencies, the pound is now at its weakest level since 1996.

The pound dropped sharply on Wednesday after the Bank of England issued a gloomy assessment of the UK economy.

The fall in sterling will hurt holidaymakers who have benefitted from a strong pound when traveling overseas- and make it more expensive for people to buy second homes abroad.

However, it could help exporters whose goods will be cheaper overseas.

The Bank’s governor Mervyn King said economic growth would be flat for the next year or so and that inflation would rise to 5% or above before falling.

But with domestic demand weak, a revival of exports could help the economy and limit job losses.

Rate cuts

Economists had thought inflation would prevent the Bank of England from cutting rates, but the Bank’s suggestion that inflation will begin to ease raised expectations of interest rate cuts and this hit the pound.

Notes and coins
We have long argued that sterling has been significantly overvalued in recent years
Jonathan Loynes, Capital Economics

Lower interest rates mean investors get lower returns on sterling deposits, which makes the pound less attractive.

Simon Derrick, currency strategist at Bank of New York Mellon, described the pound’s fall this week a “dramatic collapse” that recalled the aftermath of sterling’s ejection from European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) in 1992.

However, he said the currency’s slide should begin to ease.

“Even within the most ferocious sterling downtrends in the past, significant corrections emerged in the middle of the moves,” he said.

But Jonathan Loynes, chief European economist at Capital Economics, thinks the pound could fall as far as $1.65 by the end of 2009.

“We have long argued that sterling has been significantly overvalued in recent years,” he said.

Deteriorating outlooks

Recent official figures have already shown the UK is struggling with high inflation and faltering growth.

Fears about European growth have also helped the dollar bounce back from record lows.

The US economy is still reeling from the credit crisis but analysts say the deteriorating outlook elsewhere in the world has given the dollar a boost.

Falling commodity prices have also supported the US currency. Investors had bought gold and oil to protect against dollar weakness and are now unwinding their positions.

The euro was trading at $1.4816 on Thursday, almost at the six-month low of $1.4815 struck this week. Earlier this year, the euro was trading at $1.60.

The euro has been further undermined by the military conflict in Georgia.

Blog at WordPress.com.