* Data shows UK labour market improving and housing market stabilising
* European Central Bank buys Portugal bonds as 10-year rates rise above 7%
* US unemployment rate plunges to 9% in January
* Japan´s machinery orders rebound
* People´s Bank of China lifts China´s benchmark one-year lending rate by 0.25% to 6.06%
* London Stock Exchange in merger talks with TMX Group
UK labour and housing markets improve
This week several pieces of data suggested that an improvement in the UK labour market was underway. The latest survey by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation and KPMG showed that hiring rose at its fastest rate for at least six months as employers’ confidence strengthened in January. Vacancies were also at their highest for seven months. However, pay pressures were “subdued” in spite of improved demand for staff. A separate survey of online vacancies on job boards by online recruiter Monster showed a 15% increase on last year. In addition, financial recruiter Astbury Marsden said that new vacancies in the City rose by 11%, compared with a year ago.
In other positive news, the British Retail Consortium said that total sales in January rose 4.2% above those in 2010, the best onemonth performance since last March. Separately, the January survey for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors showed that a balance of 31% more surveyors reported house prices falling rather than rising over the previous three months. The result was much better than the 39% and 44% reporting price drops in December and November. Turnover in housing remains low with the average number of transactions per surveyor falling to its lowest level since June 2009. A combination of industry and official statistics showed that the rate at which British homeowners fell behind on mortgage payments or lost their homes through foreclosure fell in the fourth quarter of 2010.
Meanwhile, the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee voted to keep short-term rates steady at 0.5% and to make no change to the existing £200bn programme of gilts purchases. The Confederation of British Industry unveiled its growth forecast for the UK for 2011, saying that it expected GDP to expand over the year at a rate of 1.8%, down from the 2% forecast in December. The business group expects 2011 to be particularly tough for households as inflation hovers above the Bank of England’s medium-term 2.0% target, leading to a decline in real incomes.
In other news, the Office for National Statistics said that Britain’s net deficit on trade in goods widened to £9.2bn in December compared with an £8.5bn shortfall in November. The disappointing measure calls into question Britain’s ability to achieve an export-led economic recovery.
ECB buys Portugal bonds
This week saw the European Central Bank (ECB) intervene in government bond markets for the first time in three weeks to buy Portuguese debt as the ‘peripheral’ European country’s cost of borrowing on 10-year debt jumped to a fresh Euro-era high of 7.6%. The central bank had temporarily suspended its bond buying programme in the middle of last month. European policymakers believe that Portugal’s cost of borrowing for 10-year debt is unsustainable above 7%. A separate report showed that the nation’s headline inflation reached a five-year high of 3.6% in January.
Elsewhere, Bundesbank President Axel Weber indicated that he will not serve a second term as head of Germany’s central bank. He left open the question of whether he might succeed ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet, who will leave the central bank at the end of October. In May, Mr Weber publicly opposed the decision by the ECB to start intervening in Euroland bond markets to prevent borrowing costs spiralling out of control for governments in the region’s ‘periphery’ countries, including Portugal, Greece and Ireland.
US weekly jobless claims fall to lowest since 2008
Official figures showed that the US economy created 36,000 jobs in January – far below expectations of 146,000. However, the US unemployment rate plunged from 9.4% in December to 9% last month. Following the release of the monthly jobs data, 10-year Treasury yields rose by 0.11% to 3.66%, the highest level since early May. Separate subsequent Labour Department figures revealed that initial jobless claims fell by 36,000 to 383,000 last week, the lowest level in more than two years and a steeper decline than had been expected. The measure brings the less volatile fourweek average of claims down 16,000 to 415,500. The number of Americans continuing to make claims for unemployment insurance also declined, falling by 47,000 to 3.888m.
For his part, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told the House of Representatives’ Budget Committee that “Notable declines in the unemployment rate in December and January, together with improvement in indicators of job openings and firms’ hiring plans, do provide some grounds for optimism on the employment front.” However, he warned that it would take several years for the unemployment rate to return to a more “normal” level. On whether the central bank will buy more long-term Treasury bonds after its current $600bn programme of quantitative easing is completed in June, the President said that it would depend on whether “the recovery is on a sustainable track” and whether “inflation is low and stable at around 2% or a bit less”.
In other news, the Commerce Department said that inventories at US wholesalers rose by 1% to $430.5bn in December. That was a bigger jump than had been expected and brought inventories to the highest level since January 2009. Meanwhile, comments in recent days from many of the leading manufacturers of capital goods, including factory equipment, earthmovers and truck components, have suggested that they expect significant growth in US sales. The statistics suggest that demand for capital equipment in the USA is starting to recover strongly.
Japan’s machinery orders rebound
In Japan, latest machinery orders suggest that the economy’s export-led recovery has withstood the Yen’s appreciation (the Yen has gained more than 8% vis-à-vis the Dollar in the past year.) The Cabinet Office said that factory orders in December rose 1.7% from November. December’s measure is a sign that companies will increase spending in three to six months to meet demand from abroad. Companies surveyed forecast that orders will increase 2.7% this quarter after contracting at the end of 2010. Meanwhile, producer prices rose 1.6% in January, the fourth consecutive monthly increase.
Separately, Naoyuki Shinohara, Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, warned that Japanese banks may be undercapitalised because of the lingering risk of a global economic slowdown and a potential increase in non-performing loans.
Emerging market news
During the week, the People’s Bank of China raised China’s benchmark one-year lending rate by 0.25% to 6.06%, the third increase since October. The rate rise was widely expected as the central bank tries to curb price inflation following an expansion in the money supply to counteract the effects of the global financial crisis. By contrast, in Taiwan inflation rose a mere 0.38% in January and 1.11% year-on-year. Food prices gained 2% year-on-year, aided by the appreciating Taiwan Dollar relative to the US Dollar. Separately, Brazil’s Finance Minister Guido Mantega announced R$50bn ($31bn) in budget cuts. The cuts are seen as a crucial sign of the government’s determination to tackle the nation’s inflation, which is on the rise following rapid economic growth and increased government spending.
Elsewhere, Egypt was forced to reduce the size of a short-term government debt sale by E£2bn to E£13bn and increase the price it paid investors to hold its short-term debt. Unrest and antigovernment demonstrations have rattled the Arab world’s most populous country. The central bank’s Deputy Governor Hisham Ramez said that foreign investors sold $1.7bn of Egyptian bills - pushing yields higher (and prices lower) - after local banks reopened following a shut-down of Egypt’s financial system last week.
This week saw a wave of consolidation among the world’s largest stock exchanges. The London Stock Exchange (LSE) revealed that it is in advanced merger talks with TMX Group, Canada’s largest exchange company. The combined entity is estimated to be worth £5.5bn ($8.8bn) and would be the world’s largest exchange by number of companies traded. It would be the world’s seventhbiggest exchange by market value. The deal requires approval from both provincial and Federal Canadian authorities, where there are restrictions on an entity owning more than 10% of an exchange. The proposal follows Singapore exchange’s (SGX) recent bid to takeover Australia’s ASX to form Asia’s fourth-biggest bourse.
Separately, Deutsche Börse revealed that it was in advanced talks for an all-stock deal with NYSE Euronext to create the world’s largest exchanges operator by revenues and profits. Deutsche Börse has a market value of $15.3bn while NYSE Euronext’s market value is $8.7bn. A deal between Deutsche Börse – Europe’s largest exchange group – and the owner of the New York Stock Exchange would create a dominant player in European derivatives as a counterweight to the CME’s dominance in the USA. Deutsche Börse share price rose 1.7% while that of NYSE Euronext gained as much as 14%.