Business

Economic week ahead: Hail to the chief

Matt Quigley

Investors will have plenty to work on through the week, despite US President Barack Obama's second inauguration staying in the spotlight.

US President Barack Obama's inauguration should take centre stage with US markets closed for the Martin Luther King Jr holiday. (AFP)

With little on Monday's economic calendar, investors might be tempted to spend some time watching US President Barack Obama's second inauguration. Alicia Keys, Beyonce, Katy Perry, Stevie Wonder and Usher are just a few of the entertainers scheduled to perform throughout the day. But when the party dies down on Tuesday, it will be back to business.

Corporate earnings reports in the United States, key data reports in Europe and Latin America and a series of central bank announcements in Asia and Africa will give investors plenty to digest over the coming days. Here is your guide. 

North America
On Monday, the United States will inaugurate Obama to a second and final term. Markets will be closed in observance of the Martin Luther King Jr holiday.  

When traders return to their desks on Tuesday, December's existing home sales data and quarterly earnings reports from Google and IBM, among others, will greet them. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg expect sales to have risen to an annualised pace of 5.1-million units in December, a slight rise from November's five-million units. 

More housing data will follow on Wednesday as the Federal Housing Finance Agency releases its housing price index for November. Consensus is for a 0.7% monthly rise. Apple and McDonald's are the household names on the day's earning calendar. 

On Thursday, 3M, AT&T, Bristol-Myers, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Nokia, Starbucks and Xerox will update investors. And on the data front, weekly jobless claims figures are likely to show a rise in filings for initial benefits to 360 000 in the week ended January 19 from 335 000 in the previous week. The Conference Board's leading index – a composite of 10 economic indicators – is expected to have registered a 0.4% rise in December following November's 0.2% decline. Flash purchasing managers' index (PMI) results for Markit may show a slight decline, but remain firmly in expansion territory.

On Friday, December's new home sales data are forecast to show a 3.7% rise, down from 4.4% in November. Halliburton, Honeywell and Proctor & Gamble lead the list of the day's corporate reporters.

Europe
Business sentiment gauges on the continent and growth figures in Britain are the big items on Europe's economic calendar this week.

Germany's ZEW index of economic sentiment, scheduled for release on Tuesday, is expected to improve to a reading of 11.5 in January from 6.9 in December. France's INSEE business confidence index is forecast to rise from 89 to 90 on Wednesday. 

On Thursday, flash manufacturing (PMI) readings in Germany, France and the eurozone as a whole are expected to register slight improvements, but remain below the 50 mark separating expansion from contraction in all three cases. Germany's index is forecast to rise from 46.0 to 47.0. France's is likely to climb from 44.6 to 44.8. The eurozone's is expected to rise from 46.1 to 46.5.

On Friday, Germany's Ifo Institute will release results from its latest business climate survey. This market-moving assessment of current and expected business conditions is predicted to show slight improvements in respondents' perceptions of both current and expected business conditions.

Also on Friday, the United Kingdom's Office of National Statistics will release its first estimate of fourth quarter gross domestic product (GDP) growth. Economists expect the numbers to show that the island's economy shrank by as much as 0.4%, quarter on quarter, in the final three months of 2012. Unless the numbers surprise significantly on the upside, these disappointing figures will mean that the world's sixth largest economy experienced zero growth, at best, for the year as a whole. 

Asia
The Bank of Japan will dominate Asia's economic news this week. Policymakers conclude a two-day policy meeting on Tuesday. 

At its meeting last month, the bank expanded its asset buying programme – for the third time in four months – by 10-billion yuan to 76-trillion yuan. If policymakers add an additional 10-trillion yuan to the programme this week, as they are widely expected to do, it will be the first time in over nine years that they have acted to loosen monetary policy at successive meetings. 

The move, should it occur, would be interpreted by markets as a significant victory for Shinzo Abe – the country's recently elected prime minister – who has vigorously pressured Governor Masaaki Shirakawa and his colleagues at the bank to act aggressively to get the country out of the economic doldrums in which it has sat for two decades. Markets will also be watching to see if the bank, which has long been unsuccessful in its battle against deflation, announces an inflation target of 2.0%, as the government desires. The bank's current inflation goal is set at 1%. 

A day after Japan's announcement, China – the world's second largest economy – will take centre stage as HSBC's flash PMI numbers are announced. A solid rise in new orders over the past few months suggests that this closely followed forward looking index of economic activity will rise to 51.9 in January from 51.5 in December. Any reading above the 50 mark indicates expansion for the country's massive industrial sector. 

Latin America
Mexico and Brazil – the region's two largest economies – will release labour market data on Monday. Mexico's unemployment rate unexpectedly rose to 5.1% in November, but markets expect a drop to 4.8% in December.  Markets expect Brazil's CAGED formal job creation data to show a seasonal decline of 401 000 in December. Although the figure seems large, the country's labour market remains tight. 

No major releases are scheduled for Tuesday but, on Wednesday, Brazil's latest current account figures, Mexico's retail sales figures and Argentina's trade balance will take centre stage. Brazil's current account deficit is expected to have widened slightly to $6.3-billion in the final month of 2012. Mexico's retail sales data is forecast to show a slight rise to 3.7% year on year growth in November from 3.5% in October. Argentina's trade balance is likely to have declined to $550-million in December from $635-million in the previous month. 

On Thursday, Brazil's Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV)'s consumer confidence index is forecast to show a slight decline and Mexico's IGAE report – a monthly GDP proxy – is predicted by analysts at 4CAST to show that Mexico's economy grew by 4.3% in November, down from 4.3% in October. Markets expect Argentina's latest industrial production statistics to show a return to growth, of 0.3% year on year, in December from a decline of 1.4% in November. 

On Friday, Mexico will report on the country's trade balance, Argentina will report on shop centre sales and Brazil's will release December's lending and default rate data. 

Middle East and Africa
Monetary policy announcements in Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana will dominate Africa's economic calendar this week. 

The Central Bank of Nigeria's monetary policy committee (MPC) will announce its latest monetary policy decision on Tuesday. Data released last week showed that Nigeria's overall inflation rate eased slightly last month – falling to 12% in December from 12.3% in November – but remained well above the central bank's 10% target. Core inflation accelerated, to 13.7 from 13.1% in November. 

With inflation still a concern, economists widely expect officials to leave the bank's benchmark interest rate unchanged. Governor Lamido Sanusi raised Nigeria's monetary policy rate by 275-basis points to 12.0% in October 2011 and has left it unchanged since, despite broad criticism from banks and industry that the record high rates are impeding economic growth. 

Central bankers in South Africa will announce their monetary policy decision on Thursday. Economists expect Reserve Bank Governor Gill Marcus and her colleagues on the South African Reserve Bank's MPC to leave the bank's repo rate on hold at %%, a four-decade low. 

An announcement from the Bank of Ghana is also expected this week. The bank's monetary policy committee raised rates by 250-basis points from February through June 2012 and has left the country's benchmark interest rate on hold at 15% since. But with growth slowing – most likely to below 9% in 2012 from above 14% in 2011 – and inflation falling, many are wondering if a rate cut may be on the cards.

Matt Quigley writes the weekly economic preview for the Mail & Guardian Online. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattquigley.


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