Saturday, 21 January 2006

Economy looking good, investors feeling bad

The economic news yesterday was generally upbeat.

Reuters reports an improvement in consumer sentiment in the US.

The University of Michigan's preliminary January index of consumer sentiment rose for a third straight month to 93.4 from December's final reading of 91.5, according to sources who saw the subscription-only report.

Over in the UK, December retail sales were strong, according to another Reuters report.

The Office for National Statistics said sales climbed 0.4 percent in December, the fifth consecutive monthly rise and exactly as analysts expected. That followed an upwardly-revised 0.9 percent gain in November.

Reuters also reports that the UK housing market continues to firm.

The British Bankers' Association said on Friday that underlying mortgage lending rose 5.4 billion pounds in December, above the November rise of 5.2 billion pounds and the strongest increase since June 2004...

Figures released at the same time from the Building Societies Association showed the value of mortgage approvals -- loans agreed but not yet made -- edged up to 4.098 billion pounds after 4.080 billion in November.

That was 25.8 percent up from a year-earlier figure of 3.256 billion pounds.

And prospects for Japan appear to be improving, according to the Bank of Japan, Reuters reports.

Bank of Japan Governor Toshihiko Fukui bolstered expectations that the central bank could end its super-loose monetary policy soon, saying on Friday that his thoughts on a policy shift had moved forward since December...

Earlier on Friday, the BOJ left policy unchanged after a two-day meeting, the first such session since data showed the core CPI, which excludes fresh food prices, had risen above year-ago levels for the first time in two years in November...

In a monthly economic report, the BOJ upgraded its overall economic assessment, saying the economy was recovering steadily.

But Wall Street was obviously looking at other news. Reuters again covers that story.

Stocks suffered their biggest loss in nearly three years on Friday, plummeting on disappointing earnings from blue chips Citigroup Inc. and General Electric Co. and a spike in oil caused by geopolitical tensions.

The Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor's 500 stock index posted their biggest point declines since March 24, 2003, soon after the war in Iraq began. The Dow erased its gains for 2006...

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 213.32 points, or 1.96 percent, at 10,667.39. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 23.55 points, or 1.83 percent, at 1,261.49. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 54.11 points, or 2.35 percent, at 2,247.70.

Friday's decline was the biggest point loss for Nasdaq since September 2003.

Earlier in the week, it had been the Japanese stock market that was feeling jittery. Are these one-off, unrelated events, or the beginning of the end for the global bull market?

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