Wednesday, 15 February 2006

US retail sales pick up, Europe GDP growth slows

US retail sales were strong in January. Reuters reports :

Retail sales surged 2.3 percent in January, nearly triple the expected increase and the largest gain since May 2004, a report on Tuesday from the U.S. Commerce Department showed. Excluding demand for cars and parts, retail sales were up 2.2 percent in the largest monthly rise in more than six years.

Both overall sales and sales outside the auto sector were far stronger than Wall Street had expected, and analysts said usually warm winter weather and gift cards -- which are rung up when they are redeemed rather than sold -- likely exaggerated the shopping strength...

The higher-than-expected sales growth in January was offset slightly by a downward revision to December's data. Sales were up just 0.4 percent in December, rather than the initially reported 0.7 percent gain. The rise in sales outside the auto sector was unrevised at 0.2 percent in December...

Sales were 0.4 percent lower last week according to the International Council of Shopping Centers and UBS Securities LLC, while Redbook Research showed sales were up 0.3 percent so far in February...

The Commerce Department said U.S. business inventories climbed 0.7 percent in December, above the 0.5 percent growth expected by Wall Street, while November's gain was revised up to show a 0.6 percent rise instead of the initially reported 0.5 percent gain. Together, the increases could prompt upward revisions to fourth-quarter growth.

Meanwhile, Europe, like the US, reported a slowdown in GDP growth in the fourth quarter of last year.

GDP grew by 0.3% in the euro-zone and by 0.4% in the EU25 during the fourth quarter of 2005, compared to the previous quarter, according to flash estimates published by Eurostat, the Statistical Office of the European Communities. In the third quarter of 2005, growth rates were +0.6% in both zones.

Germany, in particular, saw no growth in the quarter. The UK did better, growing 0.6 percent, with low inflation to boot -- 1.9 percent in January and December.

The outlook is better, though. From Bloomberg:

German investors and executives expect economic growth in the dozen euro nations to rebound from a fourth-quarter slowdown as companies and consumers increase spending, two surveys showed today.

The DIHK chamber of industry and trade raised its forecast for growth in Germany, Europe's largest economy, after a survey of 25,000 companies showed executives plan to increase investment. The Mannheim-based ZEW Center for European Economic Research said its gauge of investor and analyst expectations held near a two-year high in February...

The ZEW Institute's gauge of investor confidence was at 69.8 in February, close to the two-year high of 71 reached in January...

The DIHK lifted its 2006 German growth forecast to 2 percent from 1.5 percent, saying executives plan to increase investment and export growth will fuel higher consumption.

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