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31 July 2013, and 1 August 2013: mark these dates in your diary. On these days economic news was revealed that meant one of two things; either the economy was well and truly on the mend, or we are seeing one very big blip. If it is the former, celebrate; if it is the latter enjoy it while it lasts.

They hadn’t expected much. Purchasing Managers’ Indices (PMIs) suggested the US economy had a rotten Q2. Sure, said the optimists, Q3 would be better, but the second quarter of this year was one we would rather forget. Then on 31July 2013 the hard data was released and it told a very different tale.

The US economy expanded at an annualised rate of 1.7 per cent in Q2, and by 1.4 per cent year on year. That was much better than expected, much better than the PMIs suggested.

Both business investment and residential investment helped – in the US when house prices go up so does construction, unlike in the UK where the correlation seems only very vague.

So that was the US. The news was good in the Eurozone too. The latest PMI from Markit on manufacturing in the region was out yesterday and it rose, hitting a two year high, with a reading of 50.3. To put that in perspective, any score over 50 is meant to correspond to growth. A reading of 50.3 is nothing special, but by recent standards it is positively wonderful.

Broken down by country things look like this:

Ireland,   51.0,    5-month high
Netherlands   50.8   24-month high
Germany   50.7   18-month high
Italy   50.4   26-month high
Spain   49.8   2-month low
France   49.7   17-month high
Austria   49.1   8-month high
Greece   47.0   43-month high

And finally we turn to the UK. The latest PMI for UK manufacturing rose to 54.6, a 26 month high. And get this. According to Markit which compiles the data along with CIPS: “New export business rose at the fastest pace for two years, reflecting increased sales to Australia, China, the euro area, Kenya, Mexico, the Middle East, Nigeria, Russia and the US.”

Apologies for raining on such a pleasant parade, but the story was not good everywhere. In Russia and Turkey the PMIs fell sharply and look worrisome, in China the picture is mixed, with the official PMI pointing to a modest pick-up and the unofficial PMI from HSBC/Markit, which puts more weight on smaller companies, deteriorating.

Still with the PMIs, the news on Poland and the Czech Republic was much better. Watch these two countries closely, especially Poland. If there is truth in all this talk about reshoring, Poland, with its proximity to the developed part of Europe, may be a big beneficiary.

One worry is that other data out yesterday showed that Sweden contracted in Q2. The out and out bears – those who are cynical for a living – question the PMIs. They say they did not predict the slow-down in Sweden; they did not predict the pick-up in the US, and they are giving a misleading picture on Europe. The big fear relates to central bankers tightening policy as a result of this data. The Fed may accelerate its plans to ease back on QE.

As for the European Central Bank, it is cautious and conservative to a T. There is a permanent danger it will lose its nerve, and tighten again, sending the Eurozone back into recession.

© Investment & Business News 2013

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