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The Euro Zone Consumer Price Index is expected to show that the annual pace of inflation rose to 0.7% in April. However, it is far too early to say the rebound owes to a pickup in economic activity, and even more so premature to suppose that prices will continue to rise from here.
Key Overnight Developments
• UK Consumer Confidence Rises for Fourth Month in April, Says GfK
• Japan's Manufacturing Sentiment, Industrial Production Improve as Inventories Clear
• Australian Business Confidence Fell at Slower Pace in Q1, Says NAB
• Bank of Japan Holds Interest Rates at 0.10% as Expected
The Euro was little-changed in the overnight session: prices initially rose to test as high as 1.3338 but retreated back below the 1.33 level ahead of the opening bell in Europe. The British Pound trended higher, adding as much as 0.6% against the US Dollar.
Asia Session Highlights
UK Consumer Confidence continued to advance for the fourth consecutive month in April according to GfK, a market researcher, rising to -27 from -30 in the previous month. The news is hardly encouraging, however, even if we assume that the metric has put in a bottom despite rising unemployment. Looking at a comparable period of low consumer confidence during the 1990-91 recession, we see that the GfK metric reversed upward in March 1990 but GDP follow suit only 6 months later and did not return to positive growth for a full two years down the road. The absence of expanding output will mean that the central bank is likely to maintain a very loose monetary policy, holding the British Pound back against the currencies of countries where economic growth and by extension interest rates will head higher sooner (most notably the US Dollar).
Japan's Nomura/JMMA Manufacturing Purchasing Manager Index rose for the fourth consecutive month in April, printing at 41.4 from 33.8 in the previous month. The reading is still below the boom-bust 50 level, meaning the manufacturing sector is still contracting, albeit at the slowest pace since October of last year. The improvement reflected expectations that the breakneck pace of decline in output will begin to slow as firms deplete existing stocks of products and are required to replenish. Indeed, Industrial Production rose for the first time in five months in March, rising 1.6%, while inventories shrank for the third consecutive month and the inventory-to-shipments fell -4.9% from a record high. Still, the news is far from rosy: overseas sales remain lackluster as Japan's top trading partners suffer acute economic slowdown, so any pickup in production can be expected to be shallow. This means firms are unlikely to re-hire labor en masse, keeping the lid on spending and thereby overall economic growth for some time to come. Japan's Trade Ministry was reasonably unimpressed, calling output stagnant.
Australian Business Confidence improved as expected in the first quarter from the three months to December 2008 according to National Australia Bank (NAB). Importantly, the metric continues to show contraction with a print in negative territory. Indeed, NAB chief economist Alan Oster remained cautious after seeing an uptick in the March result, saying, While an element of fear appears to be abating, the index is still quite low [and] points to falling demand in the first quarter.
The Bank of Japan kept interest rates on hold at 0.10% as expected. The decision was unanimous and policymakers said they will leave their current 1.8 trillion yen government bond purchasing program unchanged. The Japanese Yen was little changed after the announcement with the outcome widely priced into the exchange rate for some time.
Euro Session: What to Expect
The initial estimate of the Euro Zone Consumer Price Index are expected to show that the annual pace of inflation rose to 0.7% in April from a record low of 0.6% in the previous month. As with the analogous metric from Germany earlier this week, it is far too early to say the rebound owes to a pickup in economic activity, and even more so premature to suppose that prices will continue to rise from here. Currency depreciation may account for the increase, making imported goods comparatively more expensive for European consumers. Indeed, the Euro slipped -1.4% on average against the currencies of the regional bloc's top trading partners to date this month. Travel and leisure spending linked to Easter may have also helped considering the holiday break fell in April this year rather than its usual time in March. The fallout in commodity prices (particularly oil) and slowing economic activity are likely to weigh on price growth in coming months. In fact, French Producer Prices are expected to fall by a record -5.3% in the year to April, suggesting lower consumer prices ahead as firms pass on lower manufacturing costs via cheaper finished products. The analogous metric in Germany also tumbled during the same period, bolstering the downside scenario for the Euro region as a whole.
If the economy is indeed showing signs of life, this likely owes to a slew of government spending packages put in place across the currency bloc. The ability of these measures to spur a sustainable return to economic growth looks questionable at best, however. Bruegel, a think tank, has estimated that European countries will spend an average of 0.9% of GDP on fiscal stimulus, as compared to 2% being spent in the US. On the monetary front, the European Central Bank seems intent on continued waffling, signaling rate cuts will end with borrowing costs at 1% and seemingly failing to reach a workable consensus on unconventional measures (meaning quantitative easing, a policy in place in the US, UK and Japan). This half-hearted approach means that private demand will likely be slow to step in to pick up the baton after the government's boost is exhausted, keeping unemployment at elevated levels, holding back spending and bolstering expectations for a comparatively slower recovery. Indeed, the Unemployment Rate is expected to rise to 8.7% in March, the highest in 3 years, and is forecast to approach 10% by the end of this year. In Germany, the Euro area's largest economy, the ranks of the unemployment are expected to jump by another 65,000 people to bring the jobless rate to 8.2%, the highest since January 2008.
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