Friday, 13 April 2012

Mixed global economic data, Fed and BoJ ready to act

There were some positive economic data on Thursday.

In China, bank lending in local currency jumped to 1.01 trillion yuan in March, the most since January 2011, from 710.7 billion yuan in February.

The euro area also had positive data for a change. Industrial production rose 0.5 percent in February.

However, US economic data on Thursday were not as positive as in recent months.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits increased by 13,000 last week to 380,000. The latter figure is the highest since 28 January.

Another report showed that the trade deficit shrank in February as imports fell 2.7 percent. A fall in oil imports contributed to the smaller trade gap, but so did a fall in imports from China, which may have been the result of the Chinese Lunar New Year.

Meanwhile, inflation pressures remained moderate in March as producer prices were unchanged, although prices excluding food and energy rose 0.3 percent.

Sluggish growth and moderate inflation means that the Federal Reserve may still provide additional monetary stimulus. From Reuters:

U.S. Federal Reserve officials, out on a speaking spree on Thursday, suggested the economy would have to deteriorate for the central bank to consider additional monetary stimulus.

Policymakers did hint at the possibility of further action. Fed Board Governor Sarah Raskin said the U.S. central bank stands ready to do all it can to support the economic rebound, while William Dudley, president of the New York Fed, emphasized the recovery's fragility...

Late Wednesday the Fed's influential vice chair, Janet Yellen, said the central bank's policy of near-zero interest rates is appropriate given high unemployment and the headwinds facing the economy. She added the central bank has a variety of options were it to engage in further asset purchases, and that the Fed remains “quite willing” to take whatever actions are necessary to achieve its mandate.

Not every Fed official has been as dovish though.

... Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser on Thursday said the central bank should move away from the approach of suggesting a specific calendar date for the start of rate hikes...

“Maximum employment is largely determined by factors that are beyond the control of monetary policy,” he said.

That seems to be a view shared by PIMCO's Mohamed El-Erian. In a speech at the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis on Thursday, he said that “central banks can no longer – indeed, should no longer – carry the bulk of the policy burden”. He said that not only is the effectiveness of central banks' actions declining, there is also a “growing risk of collateral damage and unintended circumstances”.

Such views are not likely to deter central banks from further monetary stimulus though, at least not in Japan. Despite a slight improvement in the Japanese government's assessment of the economy, Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa reportedly pledged on Thursday to “pursue powerful easing” to help overcome deflation.

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