The Big Five: Themes for the Week Ahead

August 24, 2009

Five things to think about this week:

— The global economy and financial system appear on the road to recovery but that is in large part due to unprecedented official stimulus that will have to be withdrawn at some point – the questions investors want answered are when, and how.  Central bankers no longer appear to be quite as shoulder to shoulder with one another on coordinated policy as they were last year in the aftermath of Lehman’s collapse.

—  It is August, liquidity has dried up with the summer holiday season in full swing, and investors are palpably more cautious about the economic outlook now than they have been for months. It is against this backdrop that that the Chinese stock market is emerging as the focal point and driver of all other asset markets. The Shanghai Composite technically slipped into bear market territory earlier last week, shedding 20 percent in the two weeks from Aug. 4 to Aug. 19 on profit taking from the 90 percent surge this year. There is no major Chinese economic data scheduled for release this week, leaving thin markets at the whim of sentiment in what is a notoriously volatile stock market.

— The United States, Britain and Germany unveil revised estimates of Q2 economic growth. Revised GDP figures rarely garner much attention but with initial estimates from Germany, France and Japan earlier this month all showing that these countries exited recession in the last quarter, investors will be looking for further evidence the world economy has turned the corner. The hard data is stronger now than it has been for some time but is the global economy building a solid base for recovery, or is it more likely to buckle were authorities to begin withdrawing the massive fiscal and monetary stimulus?

— A veil of normality continues to cloak interbank money markets, with Libor at record lows and some closely-watched measures of money market health like Libor/OIS spreads and the TED spread almost back to levels seen before August, 2007. But that is only thanks to authorities’ liquidity injections, guarantees and asset purchases worth trillions.  Banks have hoovered up this free or ultra-cheap money but still are not feeding it into the real economy, with lending to business and households still patchy at best. Euro zone M3 money supply figures for July are expected to show another slowdown in the rate of growth, to 3.3 percent on the year from 3.5 percent in June.
— Figures will show how the U.S. housing market, the epicentre of the global financial crisis, is faring four and a half years on from its peak. The Case/Shiller house price index is expected to show the annual pace of price declines slowed again in June, fuelling the belief that the market has bottomed.  But the number of foreclosures is high as the U.S. labour market remains weak, and the national housing market stock remains high by historical standards. Economists say there will be no sustainable recovery of the financial system and economy without a durable recovery in the US housing market.

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Investment lay offs are real issue to be dealt with more consciously. People need to get more prepared to face even a worst tomorrow.

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