Saturday, 8 November 2008

US economy deteriorates but financial markets improve

Friday's US economic data were lousy.

Bloomberg reports a surge in unemployment.

The U.S. unemployment rate rose to the highest level since 1994 as companies slashed payrolls, setting the stage for the steepest economic decline in decades and a tough start for Barack Obama’s presidency.

The jobless rate rose to 6.5 percent in October from 6.1 percent the previous month, the Labor Department reported today in Washington. Employers fired 240,000 workers after a loss of 284,000 in September. Revisions to the previous month added 125,000 more to the jobless lines than previously reported.

And continuing weakness in the housing market.

The index of signed purchase agreements, or pending home resales, fell 4.6 percent, more than forecast, to 89.2, the National Association of Realtors said today in Washington.

As if that's not bad enough, a Reuters report indicates that the prognosis for the economy may be deteriorating.

The Economic Cycle Research Institute, a New York-based independent forecasting group, said its Weekly Leading Index fell to 110.9 in the week to Oct. 31, down from 112.9 in the previous period. The index is now at its lowest level since April 12, 1996, when it stood at 110.7.

The index's annualized growth rate slid from minus 21.9 percent to negative 24.6 percent, its lowest ever, according to ECRI data.

But there was better news in financial markets.

Bloomberg reports that stocks were up on Friday.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index added 26.11 points, or 2.9 percent, to 930.99. The gauge trimmed its weekly decline to 3.9 percent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 248.02, or 2.9 percent, to 8,943.81 after losing almost 10 percent in the previous two days. The Nasdaq Composite Index increased 2.4 percent to 1,647.4. Three stocks advanced for each that fell on the New York Stock Exchange.

While LIBOR was down.

The cost of borrowing dollars for three months in London fell to a four-year low after central banks around the world cut benchmark borrowing costs and kept the financial system flooded with cash to restore lending.

The London interbank offered rate, or Libor, that banks say they charge one another for loans fell 10 basis points to 2.29 percent today, the lowest level since November 2004, the British Bankers' Association said. The overnight rate held at a record low of 0.33 percent and the TED spread, a gauge of bank cash availability, dropped under 200 basis points for the first time since the day before Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. collapsed...

South Korea's central bank, led by Governor Lee Seong Tae, lowered the seven-day repurchase rate by a quarter of a percentage point to 4 percent in Seoul today, extending cuts since Oct. 9 to 1.25 percentage points, the most aggressive sequence of reductions since the bank started setting a policy rate in 1998.

Stocks were still down over the week but the decline in LIBOR since late October has been pretty dramatic.

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