Economists busy revising down their third quarter gross domestic product forecasts had to backpedal a bit on Thursday after Commerce Department data showed a steep shrinking of the U.S. trade deficit — despite an unexpected rise in weekly jobless claims. The trade gap shrank to $44.8 billion in July, Commerce Department data showed, down sharply from June’s $53.1 billion deficit and much lower than forecasts around $51 billion. The 13.1 percent decline was the biggest month-to-month percentage drop in the deficit since February 2009.
In Jackson Hole, where central bankers and leading economists from around the world are gathering for an annual meeting hosted by the Kansas City Fed, the talk is about the economy, what Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will signal in his highly anticipated speech on Friday and what Warren Buffett’s purchase of a stake in Bank of America might mean for the beleaguered bank.
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.”
Phew. Industrial production rose 0.9% in July, the fastest in seven months. For the moment, that appeared to forestall fears that another U.S. recession might be imminent, even if stocks were down on worries about weak economic growth in Germany. Harm Bandholz at Unicredit saw the figures as a bright spot:
The chances of a second U.S. recession are rising. But just how high a probability is always difficult to gauge. The latest Reuters consensus from private sector economists – most employed by an industry that got us into the mess – is currently one in four. That’s not very high, but it has crept up from one-in-five when we asked the same people two weeks ago.
So much for jobs being a lagging indictor. Economists at Goldman Sachs have constructed a handy little model for predicting recessions based on increases in the unemployment rate. We’ll let them explain the details in their own words, but here’s the short of it: If the jobless rate ticks up to 9.3 percent in July from 9.2 percent in June, then stays there in August, the U.S. expansion is toast:
The United States appears to have averted a default with a theatrical last-minute agreement to raise the debt ceiling. But it must now grapple with what appears to be the growing threat of a new recession. Consumer spending contracted for the first time in two years in June. At the same time, manufacturing grew at its weakest pace in two years in July, suggesting the third quarter has not gotten off to a very good start.
U.S. and Japanese monetary policy does not always move hand in glove, but meetings of the countries’ respective central banks in the next few days are likely to spell out the same thing — that the job of economic recovery is by no means over.