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Economic week ahead: Policy decisions, data to dominate

Matt Quigley

America's monthly jobs report and a slew of central bank meetings will dominate this week's economic calendar.

Will the rand recover after a week when the currency hit a new five-year low against the dollar? (Gallo)

Key central bank meetings include the European Central Bank, Bank of England, Reserve Bank of Australia and their counterparts in Mauritius, Uganda and Botswana.

Economists and investors will also be on the lookout for South Africa's latest manufacturing purchasing managers' index (PMI) readings and keeping a close eye on the rand after a volatile week that saw the currency hit a new five-year low against the dollar. 

Africa
South Africa's data week begins with January's manufacturing purchasing managers' index (PMI) readings from the Bureau for Economic Analysis (BER) and last month's vehicle sales figures from the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (NAAMSA). Provisional national treasury figures for January will follow on Tuesday.

Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) will release productive capacity statistics on Thursday. Friday will bring January's assets and liabilities, gold and foreign currency reserves data from the South African Reserve Bank and the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SACCI)'s business confidence index readings for January.

 Elsewhere on the continent, three central banks will meet to consider interest rates this week. The Bank of Mauritius makes its policy announcement on Monday. The central banks of Uganda and Botswana will follow on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

Beyond these central bank decisions, economists and investors will be on the lookout for fourth quarter unemployment figures from Morocco on Tuesday and Egypt's reserves update on Thursday. Other highlights of the week's scheduled releases include January consumer price index (CPI) readings from Mauritius and Tanzania and December money supply figures from Namibia, Ghana and Uganda. 

United States  
Last month's motor vehicle sales figures and Institute for Supply Management (ISM)'s manufacturing index, along with December's construction spending data, will kick off America's data week on Monday. Analysts expect total vehicle sales to have risen to 15.8-million in January from 15.4-million in December. The ISM's index is likely to slide slightly to a reading of 56 from 57 previously. Construction spending probably remained flat. 

On Tuesday, attention will turn to December's factory orders data. Consensus is that orders fell 1.8% from November, marking a reversal of the prior period's 1.8% gain. 

On Wednesday, economists and investors will get a preview of Friday's government jobs release in the form of ADP's private payroll employment report, which massively overshot official figures in December. Economists expect the ADP report to show that employers added 170 000 positions in January, down from 238 000 in December.

On Thursday, government figures are expected to show that America's trade gap widened to $36-billion in December from $34.3-billion in November. A separate report on jobless claims is likely to show that 337 000 Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits during the week ended February 1, an improvement on the previous week's unexpectedly high 348 000 new claimants. 

Finally, on Friday, the US employment situation report – the week's most significant data releases – is expected to show that America added 181 000 non-farming jobs in January, up from a mere 74 000 in December, and that the country's unemployment rate remain unchanged at 6.7%. Average earnings likely climbed 0.2% on a monthly basis and the average work week likely held steady at 34.4-hours. 

Europe
Rate-setting meetings at the European Central Bank (ECB) and Bank of England (BOE) are the two big events on Europe's economic calendar this week. Both institutions will announce their decisions on Thursday. 

With deflation fears on the rise – and unemployment stuck near record levels – many are calling on policymakers at the ECB to provide additional support for Europe's fragile recovery. Figures released last week showed that the euro zone's inflation rate unexpectedly dropped further below the ECB's target – of just under 2% – to 0.7% in January from 0.8% in December. A separate release showed that the 28-nation currency zone's unemployment rate remained stuck at 12.0% for the third consecutive month.

The last time the region's inflation rate fell to its current level – in October of last year – the ECB surprised markets with a rates cut. An analysis of money market rates suggests that investors do not expect the same thing to happen this week, but do anticipate additional policy easing later this year. 

The ECB's 24-member governing council focuses on the medium-term inflation outlook for rate-setting purposes, rather than month-to-month price fluctuations. Policymakers will receive revised forecasts from staff in March. Analysts speculate that downward revisions to inflation or growth projections could then be the trigger for action. 

Across the English Channel, the BOE is widely expected to leave the bank's benchmark rate and asset purchase programme size unchanged this week. Speculation that a faster than expected decline in the UK's unemployment rate might lead policymakers to scale down their support for the country's economy earlier than previously pledged was tempered last week by data showing that UK GDP expanded at a slower pace in the fourth quarter than in the previous two.  

Asia
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) will hold its first meeting of the year on Tuesday. Policymakers have aggressively cut interest rates – slashing rates by 225-basis points since 2011 – in a bid to bolster the country's struggling economy, but are expected to leave rates on hold this week.  

Australia's annual inflation rate has been running at around 3.0% for the past six months – at the top of the RBA's target band – making it increasingly difficult for Governor Glenn Stevens and his colleagues to maintain their easing bias. But a rate hike, or even hints of policy tightening, would likely cause Australia's dollar to strengthen, something officials would very much like to avoid. 

Last year was the worst year for jobs growth in Australia in 17 years, marked by virtually no employment growth, rising unemployment and declining labour market participation rates. A strengthening currency would make the situation worse. 

On Wednesday, attention will shift to Indonesia for the release of 2013's growth figures. Gross domestic product (GDP) data is likely to show that South East Asia's largest economy experienced its slowest pace of expansion in four years last year. Consensus is that GDP expanded by 5.7%, down from 6.2% in 2012.  

In addition to these two events, markets will be on the lookout for two high-profile corporate earnings reports from Japan over the coming days. Toyota – the world's largest automotive manufacturer – will release April to December results on Tuesday. Electronics giant Sony – which posted a surprise loss in the September quarter – will follow on Thursday. 

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


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