An unpleasant surprise may lurk in euro zone GDP numbers

The euro zone economy may be doing far worse than most economists want to believe. That’s not good news for a central bank trying to rescue the single currency through a hotly-contested bond purchasing programme that has yet to get started.

The latest flash purchasing managers’ indexes, which cover thousands of euro zone companies, suggest the third quarter will mark the euro zone’s worst economic performance since the dark days of early 2009, according to Markit, which compiles them.

They predict the economy likely shrank by 0.6 percent in the quarter that finishes at the end of this month.

That’s far gloomier than the consensus 0.2 percent decline predicted in the last week’s Reuters poll of around 35 economists, and even more pessimistic than the poll’s lowest forecast of 0.5 percent.

Aside from some German resilience, there was an unexpectedly severe decline reported by French firms. Flash PMIs don’t cover Spain and Italy – those figures come out at the end of the month. But it’s a pretty sure bet there’s been a deterioration there since last month.

Emerging markets: Soft patch or recession?

Could the dreaded R word come back to haunt the developing world? A study by Goldman Sachs shows how differently financial markets and surveys are assessing the possibility of a recession in emerging markets.
One part of the Goldman study comprising survey-based leading indicators saw the probability of recession as very low across central and eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa. These give a picture of where each economy currently stands in the cycle. This model found risks to be highest in Turkey and South Africa, with a 38-40 percent possibility of recession in these countries.
On the other hand, financial markets, which have sold off sharply over the past month, signalled a more pessimistic outcome. Goldman says these indicators forecast a 67 percent probability of recession in the Czech Republic and 58 percent in Israel, followed by Poland and Turkey. Unlike the survey, financial data were more positive on South Africa than the others, seeing a relatively low 32 percent recession risk.
Goldman analysts say the recession probabilities signalled by the survey-based indicator jell with its own forecasts of a soft patch followed by a broad sustained recovery for CEEMEA economies.
“The slowdown signalled by the financial indicators appears to go beyond the ‘soft patch’ that we are currently forecasting,” Goldman says, adding: “The key question now is whether or not the market has gone too far in pricing in a more serious economic downturn.”

Shoots and weeds in the economic garden

Nouriel Roubini is a bearish guy at the best of times, but he is currently worried that signs of those “green shoots” of economic recovery are covering up something altogether more stubborn in the garden.

Recent data suggest that the rate of contraction in the world economy may be slowing. But hopes that “green shoots” of recovery may be springing up have been dashed by plenty of yellow weeds.

His point, in a new post on his much-followed blog, is that the consensus view that the global economy has or will soon bottom out has already been proven too optimistic.

Small credit for big depression

It took some time, and a lot of downward corrections to IMF GDP forecasts, before the current global economic downturn won the title of ‘worst since the Great Depression’.

Why settle for second worst though?

This one is in at least three ways just as bad if not even worse than 1929-30, economists Barry Eichengreen (University of California, Berkeley) and Kevin O’Rourke (Trinity College,
Dublin) argue

Look at global industrial output, world stock markets, and global trade volumes. Map the nine months after April 2008 against the period following June 1929 and the story you see is the following:

ECB has to cut rates to stop jump in real borrowing costs

The European Central Bank has to cut official interest rates by at least another percentage point to stop the real cost of borrowing for households and firms jumping in the summer as inflation plummets.

That’s the logical conclusion of comments in recent weeks made by ECB policymakers including Italy’s Mario Draghi and Germany’s Axel Weber, who are watching inflation-adjusted borrowing costs closely to gauge the impact of cuts in official interest rates on the real economy.

One key factor in the euro zone’s economic recovery will be the real cost of borrowing, the interest rate paid on credit after adjusting for inflation, or any loss of purchasing power.

Political poster child?

George Alogoskoufis is a hardly a household name outside Greece and EU financial circles. But the newly sacked Greek finance minister could yet become a poster child for politicans struggling to fight off economic decline and banking industry collapse. His demise was in large part due to a public perception that he was helping out the banks but ignoring rising joblessness.

Greece, of course, is a special case at the moment, still recovering from riots over the police shooting of a teenager. But finance ministers, central bankers and other responsibles are probably not immune from Alogoskoufis Syndrome. Balancing the need to bail out the finance industry with rising economic misery among everyday people is not easy. Fat cats are not exactly in favour at the moment.

This could, indeed, come to a head later in the year. Investment cycles tend to recover before economic ones. So what happens when Wall Street, the City and the like start bringing in the money again just as unemployment lines start getting even longer?

We can’t all be Finns

How well is your finance minister doing as the global economy comes tumbling around your ears? Finns, at least, can hold their heads up with pride: Jyrki Katainen (pictured on ice) has topped The Financial Times’ annual rankings of European finance ministers.

Nineteen ministers were judged on their economic performance, political performance and their country’s financial stability. The latter was based on the cost of buying insurance against default on money borrowed by the government, politics on what a panel of economists saw as lucidity, leadership and so on, and economics on a wide range of macro factors. Katainen triumphed primarily on economics with the FT citing a projected healthy budget surplus next year.

Results for the G7 members of the group were mixed. Germany’s Peer Steinbruck came second, despite a poor showing on politics, and France’s Christine Lagarde was seventh. Britain and Italy languished at 14 and 16, respectively, although at least UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling can boast of coming first in politics. Something to do with élan, apparently.


Economic faceoff

Supporters of Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama and Republican nominee Senator Barack Obama gather near the site of the third and final presidential debate at Hofstra UniversityDemocratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and Republican nominee John McCain meet tonight at Hofstra University in New York, their final scheduled appearance together before election day.

The third encounter was meant to be the debate to focus the economy and domestic issues. But the economy couldn’t wait.

The $700 billion government bailout was the first topic at the almost-didn’t-happen-first-debate with PBS moderator Jim Lehrer.

Meet Macroscope …

The financial system is in the grips of its most violent
upheaval since the 1930s. A staggering amount of wealth has been
destroyed this year — $11 trillion wiped out from world stock
markets in the past nine months. The damage already is spilling
into the real economy, and fears are spreading among investors
of a deep and damaging downturn.

Macroscope is a new blog where Reuters journalists from
around the world look behind the headlines, the speeches and the
economic reports to bring you a fresh look at the factors
driving the world economy, and the people making the decisions that affect
your household budget.

It will look at the policymakers who are ripping up the rule books
in a desperate search for ways to get cash pumping through the seized-up money markets,
stabilise banks, revive stock markets and prevent the credit
crisis from turning an economic downturn in the United States
and Europe into a deeply damaging global recession.