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March 2, 2015
"A month or two of snow isn't going to impact the general trend"
The week in review...
The Fed: Straight from the source Testifying before Congress, Fed Chair Yellen gave explicit guidance about how to read future FOMC statements, right down to the meaning of the future omission of the word "patient" as a harbinger of possible rate hikes on a "meeting-by-meeting basis". The apparent objective: get the markets to focus on economic data rather than the calendar as signs of future moves. Many interpreted her remarks as signaling rate hikes could begin as early as mid-year.
Wages: behind lagging growth Job growth continues to strengthen, but wage growth for 4Q2014 was a low 2.2%, only now beginning to pick up, as Fed Chair Yellen noted before Congress last week. A possible explanation: at the margin, new hires may be coming from "outside the labor force", rather than from the ranks of those already actively looking for work. That's showing up in the labor participation rate, now at 62.9%, apparently stable despite the demographic wave of retiring boomers. Some previously discouraged and only now coming off the sidelines, these "outsiders" appear to command lower wages than recently unemployed workers hired after a short time off the field.
Greece: Kicking the urn down the road In negotiating four months of forbearance, Greece managed to avoid an immediate debt crisis – but at the expense of prolonging the public disagreements within its own ruling Syriza coalition, and between Greece and its EU partners. Those disagreements, especially between Greece and Germany, have already eroded what little good will was created during the negotiations. Finance Minister Varoufakis has worried publicly about Greece's ability to make payments of €1.5 bn ($1.68 bn) in March and €7.5 bn in maturing bonds held by the ECB in July and August, despite the €7.2 bn it's due to receive in EU/IMF bailout funds.
Germany: Picking up steam The number of people out of work in February fell by 20k, twice as much as expected, leaving the jobless rate at 6.5% – the lowest level in more than 20 years. GDP continued to grow at 1.6% year-on-year and 0.7% in the three months ended December, supported by domestic spending and exports. Private consumption rose 0.8%, capital investment rose 1.2% and exports jumped 1.3%. Declining energy prices are getting credit for some of the pickup, despite their contribution to disconcerting negative inflation throughout Europe.
China: Helping hand Fiscal policy changes announced by the State Council, intended to "combat downward pressure on the economy" include significant tax cuts for smaller businesses, decreases in unemployment insurance payments from employers, and acceleration of construction of major water projects in less-developed central and western regions. One indication of the need for fiscal stimulus: official reports that 151k hectares of land had been allocated to new real estate in 2014, down more than 25% from the previous year.
Singapore: Noblesse oblige The new 2015 budget includes tax hikes for the top 5% of earners, with top marginal rates now scheduled to rise from 20% to 22% – still below those of many other developed economies. Earnings between S$160k and S$320k ($118k and $235k) will also see increases. The hikes are earmarked in part to help finance the rollout of universal health coverage, improve benefits for low wage workers and the elderly, and improve transport infrastructure.
Signs of the times:
Japanese Companies Go on Spending Spree Abroad – Japan Today
ECB Faces Struggle in Sourcing Enough Bonds for QE – Wall Street Journal
Spanish Consumers Drive Economic Recovery as Exports Plateau – Bloomberg
Durable Goods Orders in U.S. Rise for First Time in Three Months – Bloomberg
Sources: Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, New York Times, Kathemarini (Greece), China Daily, Xinhua, Straits Times (Singapore), Japan Today, Deutsche Welle
...And the week ahead:
GLOBAL ECONOMIC CALENDAR: March 1–7, 2015
Europe, UK, Africa, Mideast
Japan, Asia Ex Japan & Pac Rim
China: manufacturing, services PMIs
S. Korea: trade data
Personal spending, manufacturing outlook
Eurozone: inflation, manufacturing PMIs, unemployment
UK: house prices, manufacturing PMIs
China: private sector PMIs
Japan: capital expenditures, corporate profits
Japan: monetary base, wages
Fed "Beige Book"; services industry outlook, employment survey
Brazil: rate decision
UK, Eurozone: services PMIs
China: private sector services PMI
Banking stress test results, jobless claims, job cuts
ECB: interest rate decision, press conference
Bank of England: rate decision
Germany: factory orders
Russia: consumer prices
Jobs report, trade balance, consumer credit
The European Central Bank (ECB) is responsible for the monetary system of the European Union (EU) and the euro currency.
The European Union (EU) is an economic and political union established in 1993 by members of the European Community. The EU now comprises 28 countries after its expansion to include numerous Central and Eastern European nations.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is an international organization of various member countries, established to promote international monetary cooperation, exchange stability, and orderly exchange arrangements.
The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is a policy-making body of the Federal Reserve System (the Fed) responsible for the formulation of a policy designed to promote economic growth, full employment, stable prices, and a sustainable pattern of international trade and payments.
Purchasing Managers Indexes (PMI) measure the manufacturing and services sectors in an economy, based on survey data collected from a representative panel of manufacturing and services firms. PMI greater than 50 indicated economic expansion; below 50, contraction.
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is an economic statistic which measures the market value of all final goods and services produced within a country in a given period of time.
Quantitative easing (QE) refers to a monetary policy implemented by a central bank in which it increases the excess reserves of the banking system through the direct purchase of debt securities.
The Beige Book is a commonly used name for the Federal Reserve report, "Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions by Federal Reserve District". It is published eight times each year, just before the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting on interest rates, and is used to inform the members on changes in the economy since the last meeting.
International investments are subject to special risks including currency fluctuations, social, economic and political uncertainties, which could increase volatility. These risks are magnified in emerging markets.
Commodities and currencies contain heightened risk that include market, political, regulatory, and natural conditions and may not be suitable for all investors.
This material is for information only and does not constitute an invitation to the public to invest in any funds, securities, strategies or other products. You should be aware that the investment opportunities described should normally be regarded as longer term investments and they may not be suitable for everyone. All investments involve risk, including possible loss of principal. The value of investments and the income from them can go down as well as up and investors may not get back the amounts originally invested, and can be affected by changes in interest rates, in exchange rates, general market conditions, political, social and economic developments and other variable factors. Past performance is no guide to future returns and may not be repeated. Investment involves risks including but not limited to, possible delays in payments and loss of income or capital. Neither Legg Mason nor any of its affiliates guarantees any rate of return or the return of capital invested. Unless otherwise noted the "$" (dollar sign) represents U.S. Dollars.
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