MacroScope

Time to taper the taper talk?

It’s been three months since the Federal Reserve first hinted that it’s going to have to ease off on its extraordinary monetary stimulus, but financial markets are still not settled on the matter.

But while volatility is on the rise – surely partly a result of thinned trading volumes during the peak summer vacation season – the consensus around when the Fed will start cutting back hasn’t budged.

That makes endless daily reports from traders linking that to the latest falls in asset prices, particularly U.S. Treasuries and non-U.S. share prices, not terribly convincing.

Reuters has conducted nine separate polls of financial forecasters since Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke dropped his first hint in May. These include economists, and market strategists covering foreign exchange, stock markets and bonds.

All of them have concluded, from the first poll in early June, that September is the most likely month for the Fed to start trimming back its stimulus.

Olé! Getting to grips with the stock market bulls


The stock market bulls were out in force again in the latest Reuters poll of equity analysts and investors, conducted this week.

Taking the consensus at face value, further gains for stock markets look a sure-fire bet. However, their forecasts ought to be taken with a dose of common sense and a basic grasp of how the past has panned out.

Part of the reason for their optimism is simple herd mentality – that a positive view of the stock market will be mutually reinforcing.

Yellen likely to replace Bernanke at Fed, but beware “overwhelming” top picks

Reuters has just published a poll of economists that shows Federal Reserve Vice-Chair Janet Yellen is the overwhelming favorite pick for President Obama to replace Ben Bernanke as Fed Chairman next year.

The poll conclusions are based on the collective thoughts of dozens of professionals who are not only paid to make these kinds of predictions, but who are also likely to have been in a conversation with people who ought to know.

But it is worth noting one spectacularly wrong call from recent history.

In a similar Reuters poll, this time just days before UK finance minister George Osborne reported that he had chosen Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada, as new Bank of England Governor, the overwhelming conclusion among forecasters was that outgoing governor Mervyn King’s deputy, Paul Tucker, would get the job.

Forecasters more accurate on U.S. payrolls: perhaps a good sign

Financial and economic forecasters have long been the punching bag of punters and traders for making spectacularly wrong calls. But a clutch of economists looked exceptionally good on Friday. Nine of them, or about 10 percent of the latest Reuters Polls sample on U.S. non-farm payrolls, got the net number of new jobs created in May exactly right at 175,000. And a whole lot of them came very close.

For a survey of companies conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that itself has a margin of error of plus or minus 100,000 this is no small achievement – or stroke of luck.

But it may also be a good sign that jobs growth is getting more steady, a much more stable target to try and pin down each month. The range of forecasts provided – from 125,000 jobs to 210,000 – was also the narrowest so far this year.

Although it seems routine, rising euro zone unemployment is still shocking

 

Another month, another rise in the number of jobless in the euro zone.

As expected, the unemployment rate hit a new record 12.2 percent in April, according to Eurostat on Friday, meaning some 19,375,000 euro zone citizens are out of work.

That’s more than the populations of Austria and Belgium combined and almost a quarter are aged under-25.

However, it’s worth remembering that not so long ago, hardly any economists expected to see unemployment climb to these levels.

Small rays of hope brightened Canada’s economic outlook last week

 All data released last week point to a far better first quarter growth in Canada than previously expected, prompting economists to revise up their predictions.

In a Reuters poll conducted early last month, forecasters predicted that Canada’s economy expanded by just 1.6 percent on an annualised basis in the first three months of this year.

But that consensus could prove to be too low, with many now expecting growth to be close to 2 percent or even higher, likely a welcome sign for Stephen Poloz who was named Bank of Canada’s new governor last Thursday and will replace Mark Carney on June 3.

Still not thinking the very thinkable on Britain’s future

Mark these words. Not only is Britain going to avoid a triple-dip recession, but the economy won’t shrink again as far as the eye can see.

If that sounds ridiculously optimistic, don’t tell the more than 30 economists polled by Reuters last week, none of whom predict even a single quarter of economic decline from here on.

Even the Bank of England, not exactly famous these days for its accuracy in economic forecasting, has said for a long time that a quarter or two of contraction here and there is to be expected. That was underlined by Wednesday’s unexpected news some policymakers voted for more bond purchases this month.

The wider point about Britain’s “triple-dip” recession threat

Britain’s economy shrank an estimated 0.3 percent at the end of 2012 and every major media outlet says it points to a big risk of a triple-dip recession.

And equally predictably, some economists have already pointed out it’s a preliminary report, so maybe the economy isn’t as weak as the stats show. Negative figures have been revised away in the past.

While both points may well be true, they really amount to a squabble over whether your football team is going to go 4-0 down or 5-0 down. As Markit Economics pointed out, Friday’s figures mean that UK GDP remains some 3.2 percent lower than the peak of Q1 2008.

UK’s independent forecaster takes a reality check

An unusual thing happened on Wednesday amidst all the shouting over British finance minister George Osborne’s autumn budget update which, depending on who you asked, outlined an increasingly dire or healthy state of the UK economy.

On the very near-term economic  outlook at least, officialdom actually sounded more pessimistic than most of even its harshest critics.

Britain’s independent Office for Budget Responsibility said it expects the UK economy will contract in the period ending this month by 0.1 percent — a gloomier forecast than the consensus of economists polled by Reuters, for 0.1 percent growth.

The euro zone: choose your own adventure

Forecasts about the future for the euro zone economy are starting to resemble a multiple-choice novel. Are you an economist working for an Anglo-Saxon institution? Then turn to p.65 — “Recession for the euro zone”. A German bank? Go to p.80 — “Happy days are here again!”

That simplifies the case slightly, but there’s more than a grain of truth in it. We’ve noted repeatedly that predictions about the euro zone are coloured heavily by whether someone works for an employer based inside the currency union or not.

In the past, analysts have been reluctant to forecast outright contraction for major economies.