Monday, 30 April 2012

US economy slows as Europe faces recession

Last week's economic data for developed countries were mixed.

In the United States, economic growth slowed to a 2.2 percent annualised rate in the first quarter from 3.0 percent in the previous quarter. The deceleration in growth was mainly due to a deceleration in inventory investment and a downturn in non-residential fixed investment.

Encouragingly, though, two components that usually drive the US economy showed acceleration in the first quarter.

Consumer spending grew at a 2.9 percent rate in the first quarter. This was up from 2.1 percent in the previous quarter.

Also accelerating in the first quarter was residential investment, which grew at a 19.1 percent rate compared to 11.6 percent in the previous quarter. The first quarter marked the fourth consecutive quarter of growth in residential investment.

Other reports on the US housing sector last week were also encouraging. New home sales came in at a higher-than-expected 328,000 annual rate in March while sales for February were revised up to 353,000, the highest in two years. Pending home sales rose 4.1 percent in March to hit a 23-month high.

A source of concern though for the US economy last week was a report on durable goods orders, which showed a sharp 4.2 percent fall in March. The decline was driven by a 12.5 percent plunge in transportation equipment orders.

If the data on the US economy look mixed, there was even less cause for cheer among the economic reports for Europe.

A report last week showed that the British economy contracted 0.2 percent in the first quarter. With the economy having contracted 0.3 percent in the previous quarter, it is now technically in recession.

The eurozone economy may find itself in the same boat. The European Commission's economic sentiment indicator for the region, which had stabilised somewhat in the first quarter after having fallen dramatically in the second half of last year, resumed its slide in April, falling to 92.8 from 94.5 in March.

Purchasing managers' data for the euro area painted a similar picture. Markit's composite index for the region fell further below the neutral 50 mark in April to a five-month low of 47.4 from 49.1 in March, according to a flash estimate. The manufacturing purchasing managers index fell to 46.0 in April from 47.7 in March while the services PMI fell to 47.9 from 49.2.

In contrast, data last week showed that the Japanese economy appears to have maintained growth recently. Household spending rose 3.4 percent in March from a year ago, accelerating from 2.3 percent growth in February. Industrial production rebounded 1.0 percent in March after having fallen 1.6 percent in February.

Worryingly, however, a survey showed that while production was forecast to rise another 1.0 percent in April, it was expected to fall 4.1 percent in May. Also pointing to a possible slowdown was a report on Friday that showed that Japan's manufacturing purchasing managers index fell to 50.7 in April from 51.1 in March.

So while last week's reports showed that the European economy faces a possible recession, they also showed that the skies are not completely clear for the US and Japanese economies as well.

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