3 Numbers to Watch: German manufacturing, ECB policy, US jobless
Thursday is another data-packed day for economic releases, including the Bank of England’s policy announcement. In addition, pay close attention to today's update on new factory orders for Germany, the ECB's interest rate announcement, and the US weekly jobless claims report
Germany Factory Orders (10:00 GMT): Europe’s main economy looks a bit shaky these days, and today’s update on new manufacturing orders for April isn’t likely to change anyone’s outlook for the better. In fact, once this number is published there are likely to be more doubts about macro trend, or so the consensus forecast warns. Analysts think that after two straight months of strong two percent increases, orders will retreat one precent in today’s release. Even so, economists think that the trend—the year-over-year change—will inch into positive territory for the first time in more than a year.
But short of a blow-out upside surprise today, the market is unlikely to be impressed. Earlier this week the IMF lowered its growth outlook for Germany and Markit Economics yesterday reminded us that the services sector has been contracting for the past two months. The key problem, of course, is the Eurozone, which remains in a recession. Yesterday’s worse-than-expected retail sales report for Europe in April leaves little room for thinking that the continent is poised for growth any time soon. As a result, the key question for Germany: Can the economy continue to keep the darker forces all around it from spilling over its borders? Today’s update on new factory orders, a widely watched leading indicator, will provide a clue.
European Central Bank Interest Rate Decision (11:45 GMT): No one doubts that the Eurozone remained stuck in recession in the first quarter, and a majority of analysts are apt to agree that the outlook for the second quarter (based on the numbers published so far) doesn’t look encouraging either. Ditto for comparing Europe with recent data for the US and Japan. By any reasonable macro benchmark, in other words, the case for a rate cut and additional monetary stimulus measures would be a no-brainer. But “normal” is a word with limited application these days when it comes to policy decisions in Europe.
No wonder, then, that the market is looking for the status quo to hold in today’s ECB rate decision. Europe still has the weakest economy and the highest interest rates compared with the US and Japan, but you wouldn't know it by looking at interest rates set by policy makers. Yes, ECB president Mario Draghi tells us that “our baseline scenario continues to be one of a very gradual recovery starting in the latter part of this year." But that view is grounded mostly in hope rather than hard numbers. Then again, the combination of low expectations for a rate cut and persistently bad economic news for the Eurozone overall opens the door for surprising the markets with a bold decision. But that requires something that’s in short supply among ECB leaders: a willingness to act based on the economic data in hand rather than bow to a misguided and politically driven bias for austerity due to you know who.
US Jobless Claims (12:30 GMT): ADP’s employment report for May shows that private payrolls continue to grow at a modest pace, which implies that today’s official update from the government will deliver similar news. But the trend in job growth has weakened in recent months. So too has manufacturing output, based on the ISM Manufacturing Index. It doesn’t help that personal income and spending in April was also weak. As such, this is a vulnerable moment for a big disappointment in jobless claims.
But analysts think that's a low-probability risk for this leading indicator on the labour market. The consensus forecast sees a modest decline in today's number. That would go a long way in soothing increased anxiety over the struggle to interpret the wobbly numbers of late. But beware: we’re at a precarious moment... again. A bearish surprise of any magnitude today would likely be interpreted as a dark sign after the recent run of disappointing news. And since forecasting this volatile data point for any given week is unusually difficult in the best of times, it’s never really clear what’s coming until the press release hits the streets.