St George Economics economy and finance update

Share Markets:

In Asian trade yesterday, sentiment was weighed down by a release by Chinese authorities, which urged local governments to strictly follow policies to cool the property market.

The concerns about China kept share markets overnight muted, and there was little news to drive sentiment.

US stocks managed to gain slightly later on, with the Dow rising 0.3%, the S&P500 up 0.5% and the Nasdaq up 0.4%.

Bonds:

US treasuries fell (yields rose) despite the lack of significant news. Investors are awaiting an ECB meeting on Thursday and US payroll report on Friday. 

Foreign Exchange:

The US dollar fell slightly against most currencies. Concerns about Italy's political situation and growing expectations that the ECB could ease monetary policy when it meets on Thursday kept the euro close to recent lows.

The Australian dollar fell with Asian equities on the announced property curbs in China yesterday and partially recovered overnight to just below 1.02.

Commodities:

Commodities were mixed, although were generally weighed down by the prospect of tighter property controls in China. Copper prices rose, but from three-month lows.

Australia:

Company profits fell 1.0% in the December quarter, the fifth consecutive quarterly decline.

For the year to the December quarter, company profits were down 7.6%, an improvement from the 12.4% decline in the year to September.

Excluding mining profits, total profits edged up 0.1% in the December quarter.

Inventories rose 0.2% in the December quarter, the fifth consecutive quarterly rise, which may be a reflection of slowing demand.

Mining inventories fell for the first time in seven quarters, in the December quarter, suggesting miners are drawing down inventories to meet rising global demand.

The smaller than expected rise in inventories, taken together with other recent data, suggests downside risk for our GDP forecast.

The final pieces of the GDP puzzle, government spending and net exports data, are released later today, after which we may revise our GDP forecast.

Building approvals were weaker than expected, falling 2.4% in January, while December was revised to a 1.7% decline (previously reported as a 4.4% decline, highlighting the volatility in these numbers).

The weakness was led by a decline in private 'other' dwellings (units, townhouses etc), although building approvals in this sector have risen 34.9% in the year to January.

The TD-MI inflation gauge was flat in February, leading to a 2.4% rise over the year, indicating that inflation remains well contained.

ANZ job ads rose 3.0% in February. Despite this improvement, job ads are down 16.5% in the year to February, suggesting the labour market is likely to soften further in coming months.

Europe:

Euro zone Sentix investor confidence fell from -3.9 to -10.6 in March, the weakest reading for the year so far.

The fall most likely reflects Italian political uncertainty, US spending sequester concerns and the last equity market losses were factors at play.

Euro zone producer prices slowed from an annual pace of 2.1% to 1.9% in January. A higher German PPI was offset lower readings in France and Spain.

United Kingdom: 

The Bank of England (BoE) released an update on funding for its Lending Scheme.

Since August, lenders had accessed nearly £14bn in cheap funding for lending on to households and business, but by the end of Q4 lending had fallen £1.5bn compared to end Q2.

The cost of borrowing had fallen, but not the amount of lending. The BoE suggested it was too soon to expect results; just three of the 40+ banks and building societies accounted for nearly £15bn of reduced lending (Lloyds, RBS and Santander).

The UK construction PMI fell from 48.7 to 46.8 in February, its slowest since late 2009, following the weak factory PMI last week.

Hometrack found house prices down 0.1% in the year to February, their least weak outcome since late 2010.

United States: 

The US NY ISM rose from 56.7 to 58.8 in February, its highest since April last year.

US Fed vice chair Yellen said the Fed should continue with its $85bn per month bond buying program while tracking possible costs and risks from the unprecedented program.



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