Article / 30 January 2014 at 6:32 GMT

3 Numbers to Watch: German unemployment, US GDP, jobless claims

editor/analyst /
United States

• German unemployment expected to highlight Eurozone schism
• Austerity-led strategy ongoing despite periphery weakness
• US Q4 GDP expected to tick along at steady 3 percent growth

Thursday’s a busy day for economic reports, including Germany’s unemployment update. Later, we’ll see the first US GDP estimate for last year’s fourth quarter along with the weekly initial jobless claims release for the US. Meanwhile, don’t overlook the arrival of new monetary data for the UK (09:30 GMT) or the EU economic sentiment report (10:00 GMT).

Germany Unemployment (08:55 GMT) Yesterday’s news that the growth rate of the money supply tumbled in the Eurozone raises the risk disinflation/deflation… again. That's a problem because inflation has been at or near record lows lately for EU history; bank lending to private firms continues to decline; and the "recovery" across Europe is feeble at best. The ongoing deceleration in the year-over-year growth of money supply isn't helping. In fact, we're at the point where it may become fatal in a macro sense if this dark trend is allowed to persist much longer. Broad money (M3) increased a thin one percent in the 12 months through December — down sharply from 1.5 percent in the previous month, the European Central Bank (ECB) reported. "The weakness of the monetary aggregates remains a warning sign that the fight to ward off deflationary pressures has not been won yet," an ING economist told Reuters.

Meantime, today’s unemployment report for Germany will likely provide another example of the exception to Europe’s dangerous flirtation with the “d” risk. But in the wake of the soft data for EU money supply, the market will have another excuse to focus on the fact that Germany’s resilience still represents a sharp contrast with the rest of Europe. The president of the European Commission recently tried to talk up the prospects for recovery, but then admitted that "we're not out of the crisis with such high levels of unemployment." The encouraging numbers that we’ll probably see for Germany today, although welcome, will remind everyone that there’s still a festering problem elsewhere in Europe and one that even the Continent’s main growth engine can’t fix without broader support from the ECB.


A Berlin train whisks commuters to work as Germany gets ready for a positive unemployment report. Photo: Pelucco \ Thinkstock

The irony is that the ECB is constrained by Germany's hefty influence on all things monetary in the Eurozone, an influence that continues to lean toward austerity rather than stimulus. It's anyone's guess how long political tolerance will endure for an austerity-for-all policy bias that's generally inappropriate for every nation save one.


US Q4 GDP (13:30 GMT) Economists think we’ll see a decent rate of growth in today’s initial estimate of GDP for last year’s fourth quarter. The consensus forecast anticipates a 3.0 percent rise (seasonally adjusted annual rate) for Q4, which is in line with my econometric projection. That’s well below Q3’s 4.1 percent advance, but the prediction is still an encouraging number that, if realised, will keep the bears on the defensive. “Overall, the report should show a healthy end to 2013 and momentum heading into 2014,” advised an economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

It’s already clear that the US economy has been growing at a moderate pace lately. Consider last week’s update of the Chicago Fed National Activity Index, which advanced at an above-trend pace in December, based on the benchmark’s three-month average. My big-picture analysis of the US economy also suggests that the forward momentum is intact through last month. Yes, a number of headwinds continue to weigh on the outlook — the soft rate of jobs growth in particular remains unimpressive lately. But given the generally upbeat numbers for a range of indicators in recent months, it would be surprising to see today’s GDP number deliver a big downside move.


US Initial Jobless Claims (13:30 GMT) Today’s GDP report will grab most of the attention for US economic news, but the weekly claims report still deserves attention for deciding how the macro trend is unfolding. For the moment, the numbers look a bit tired on this front. Although claims have come down recently from the surge in December, it’s unclear if the sluggish retreat in new filings for unemployment benefits this month is a sign of a cyclical rough patch or a temporary winter freeze that will thaw with the warmer weather.

Today’s update may provide an answer, in which case we’ll have more traction for guesstimating what the January payrolls report will reveal when it’s published next week (February 7). Meantime, there’s nothing particularly troubling in the claims data of late other than the fact that the decline has slowed. Indeed, new filings fell by a modest 5 percent last week vs. the year-earlier level, the weakest comparison since mid-December. But there's a good chance that the number du jour won't say much of anything. Economists think we’ll see a slight uptick in today’s release. In that case, the outlook for the labour market will continue to look muddled. The optimists say that unusually cold weather throughout the US has squeezed growth generally. In that case, another soft report for claims can be dismissed as noise, although it’ll also be a reminder that next week’s payrolls news could be lackluster too.



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