Friday, 25 April 2008

US and UK economies show resilience, confidence falls in euro area

Maybe the US economy isn't in such a bad shape after all. Reuters reports that housing continues to be very weak, but we already knew that.

Single-family new home sales slumped 8.5 percent in March to a 526,000 annual rate, the weakest pace since October 1991, while the median sales prices versus a year ago dropped by the largest amount since 1970, the Commerce Department said...

March's fall follows a downwardly revised 575,000 units in February...

The sharp decline in new home sales was in contrast to the more modest 2 percent drop in sales of previously owned homes in March reported on Tuesday.

But March durable goods orders, though down, did provide some positives.

Commerce Department data separately showed that new orders for long-lasting U.S. made goods unexpectedly fell 0.3 percent in March after transportation orders slumped, compared with economists' forecasts for no change.

New orders excluding transportation rose 1.5 percent, while transportation equipment fell 4.6 percent, including a matching drop in motor vehicles and parts which was the steepest drop since last August...

Nondefense capital goods orders excluding aircraft...was unchanged as forecast and the previous month was revised up to show a 2.0 percent decline, from a 2.4 percent drop reported before.

But shipments of this so-called "core" measure of capital spending jumped by 1.2 percent, possibly hinting at stronger foreign demand for U.S. equipment, while inventories in this category increased by 1.0 percent.

The labour market is also showing resilience.

The number of U.S. workers filing initial claims for unemployment benefits fell by 33,000 last week to 342,000, the Labor Department said, compared with economists' forecasts for 375,000 new claims.

The four-week moving average of new claims...eased last week to 369,500 from 376,750.

That reinforces the view that Fed easing may be near an end.

Interest rate futures markets had fully priced another quarter percentage point Fed ease at the meeting on April 29-30. But these chances were reduced to show only about an 80 percent likelihood the central bank would move after Thursday's data, which also showed initial jobless claims fell last week and durable goods orders exhibited some resilience in March.

There was also surprising resilience in the UK economy. From Reuters:

The Office for National Statistics said retail sales volumes dipped 0.4 percent in March, broadly as expected, but upward revisions to back months lifted the annual rate to a pacey 4.6 percent.

The three-month on three-month growth rate, seen as a better gauge of the underlying trend, rose to 2 percent -- the highest rate since July 2006...

However, a survey of manufacturers by the Confederation of British Industry painted a far more gloomy picture. Order books in April were in their worst shape since October 2006, having deteriorated on the month at the sharpest rate on record.

The eurozone economy, though, may be taking a turn for the worse. From Bloomberg:

Business confidence in Germany and France, which account for about half the euro-region economy, slumped in April as record oil and food prices stoked inflation.

The Munich-based Ifo institute said its business climate index, based on a survey of 7,000 executives, fell to 102.4 from 104.8 in March. That's the lowest since January 2006. In France, sentiment among 4,000 manufacturers slid to a 16-month low of 106 from 108, Insee, the Paris-based national statistics office said...

Italian consumer confidence held near the lowest level in four years and Dutch consumer sentiment declined to the lowest in more than two years, reports showed today...

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