/ 20 August 2012

The economic week ahead: Europe to the fore

With no big policy meetings and few major data releases scheduled this week
With no big policy meetings and few major data releases scheduled this week

Antonis Samaras, Greece's Prime Minister, will meet with the leaders of Germany and France to discuss the possibility of renegotiating aid terms for his struggling country. Investors will be watching closely for signs of progress or stalemate.

Here in South Africa, Wednesday's inflation data is the big item on this week's calendar. Here is your complete guide to the week ahead.

North America
America's economic calendar is extremely sparse over the coming days. Markets will have to wait until midweek for their first piece of significant data.

On Wednesday, the National Association of Realtors will release last month's existing homes sales data. Analysts surveyed by Dow Jones expect the report to show that, following a 5.4% fall in June, sales rebounded 3% in July.

More information on the country's housing market will follow on Thursday. Economists expect government data to show that new home sales rose 4.3% last month, following an 8.4% decrease in June. Separate data from the Federal Housing Finance Agency is expected to show that the agency's housing price index rose 0.7% in June, down slightly from May's 0.8% rise.

Also on Thursday, weekly initial jobless benefits claims are seen easing by 1 000 to 364 000 filings and the Markit purchasing managers' index (PMI) – an indicator of future economic activity – is expected to fall slightly.

Finally, on Friday, analysts are forecasting a 2.8% rise in the number of durable goods orders factories received in July, up from a 1.3% increase in June.

Beyond these data releases, investors will also scour the minutes of the Federal Reserve's most recent meeting for hints of further stimulus. The minutes will be released in Washington on Wednesday.

To the country's north, Canada will release June's wholesale and retail sales figures on Wednesday. Markets expect wholesale sales to have increased 0.3% and retail sales to have climbed 0.1% from the previous month.

Europe's debt crisis will return to the fore this week as markets await the outcome of meetings between the leaders of Greece, Germany and France on Friday and Saturday.

Samaras is expected to lobby for more time to implement the austerity measures and structural reforms imposed on his country by external funders as part of the €130-billion bailout Greece received earlier this year.

Under the terms of the agreement, Greece's government agreed to a two-year timeline for implementation of the deeply unpopular measures. Samaras, whose New Democracy party narrowly won June's parliamentary elections, made extending the timeline for the programme to four years a central theme of his party's campaign. His party's main rival – the Syriza party – wanted to scrap the deal entirely.

The German public – and many of the country's leaders – oppose substantial renegotiation of existing aid terms vehemently. If Germany holds firm and Greece refuses to comply, many fear another period of severe economic and policy uncertainty could ensue.

In addition to these meetings, markets will be waiting for a series of purchasing managers' index (PMI) and gross domestic product (GDP) data releases scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

Manufacturing PMIs covering Germany, France and the euro zone as a whole are expected to improve slightly, but remain deeply in contraction territory. GDP data is expected to show that Germany's economy – the continent's largest – grew by a mere 0.3% in the second quarter. The United Kingdom's likely shrank by 0.5% during the same period.

Japanese trade data and a forward looking indicator of economic activity in China – the world's second largest economy – will dominate Asia's economic calendar this week.

Japan's ministry of finance will release July's trade data on Wednesday. Analysts surveyed by Market News International predict that the world's third largest economy posted a ¥300-billion trade deficit last month, following a ¥60.3-billion surplus in June. On an annual basis, exports are seen falling 3% while imports are expected to show a 3.2% rise.

Later in the week, investors will shift their attention to China. The Conference Board will release their leading and coincident indicators for China on Thursday. HSBC's flash reading for their China PMI, a closely followed indicator of future economic activity will follow on Friday.

Although HSBC's PMI rebounded to a three-month high in July, it has remained below the 50-mark separating expansion from contraction for the past nine months. Further improvement would be welcome news to investors.

Beyond these releases, this week will also bring a slew of data from other economies in the region, including GDP numbers from Thailand and current account data from Taiwan on Monday and industrial production figures from Singapore on Friday.

Latin America
Monday will bring current account and GDP data from Chile, budget data from Argentina and unemployment figures from Venezuela.

Markets predict that Chile's GDP expanded by 1.55%, quarter on quarter, during the three months ended in June, up from 1.40% in the first quarter. GDP likely grew by 5.4%, year over year, during the same period.

On Tuesday, Columbia will release tax revenue data and Argentina will issue the country's latest unemployment report.

On Wednesday, Argentina will release trade balance figures, Columbia will issue the country's latest industrial production and retail sales statistics and Mexico will release June's retail sales data. Markets expect Mexico's annual rate of growth in sales to have dropped to 4% in June from 5.2% in May.

On Thursday, Argentina will release industrial production and consumer confidence data and Brazil – the region's largest economy – will release last month's current account and foreign investment data. Markets expect the country's current account deficit narrowed from $4.4-billion in June to $3.7-billion in July. Foreign investment is seen rising to $7-billion over the same period.

Finally, on Friday, policymakers at Columbia's central bank are expected to cut their overnight lending rate from 5% to 4.75%.

Statistics South Africa will release June's tourist accommodation, transport and food and beverage sales data on Monday, but Wednesday's release of last month's consumer price index (CPI) is the big event on South Africa's economic calendar this week.

Markets expect the CPI – a measure of price rises at the consumer level – to increase 0.6%, month on month, following a 0.2% rise in June. On an annual basis, this translates into a 5.2% increase, down from 5.5% in June and 6.1% in May.

Lower inflation is welcome news to policymakers and consumers alike, but the joy may be short lived. As a result of droughts in the US and Russia, economists are forecasting a significant global rise in food prices over the next few months that will hit South African consumers particularly hard.

Elsewhere on the continent, heightened overseas interest in Nigerian government bonds could drive prices up in the week ahead. Global banking giant JP Morgan said last week that Nigeria is likely to be included in the bank's government bond index for emerging markets from October. Inclusion on the list could attract up to $1-billion in foreign investment to Africa's top oil producer and second largest economy.

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