Unexpected rise in UK inflation
Earlier in the week, the Pound reached a six-week high against the US Dollar and gained 1.3% against the Euro. This sudden rise followed surprising news that the Consumer Price Index - a key indicator of inflation - rose during March from 3% to 3.2%, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.
It was also announced this week that the Retail Prices Index - another key measure of UK inflation - has fallen to zero for the first time in 49 years. The RPI, which includes housing costs, fell to 0% in February on an annual basis from 0.1% in January. The fall in RPI, as recorded in the latest Office for National Statistics data, stems largely from the fall in mortgage repayments after a series of interest rate cuts.
Once the pair of announcements had been digested, Sterling gave back some of the previous session's gains as investors reconsidered the unexpected rise in inflation.
The Pound declined further against the US Dollar, following a report from the Office of National Statistics that shows retail sales growth in the UK fell to almost zero in February as consumers cut back on spending. Sales growth slowed to 0.4% last month, the smallest increase since 1995, after a 3.6% rise in January. Analysts had expected retail sales growth to slow to 2.5%.
Across the Atlantic, the week began in even shakier fashion with details released of a $1tn US Treasury plan aimed at encouraging private investors to buy up toxic debts. The 'Public-Private Investment Programme' will purchase the troubled mortgages and securities that have been at the root of the credit crisis from banks. The US Treasury's plan to help banks offload their soured loans prompted broad Dollar-selling and the Pound hit a one-month high against the greenback.
On a more positive front, US home sales rose last month, as buyers took advantage of bargain priced houses that had previously been repossessed, data from the National Association of Realtors has shown. Sales of existing homes grew 5.1% in February to an annual rate of 4.72 million, up from January's 4.49 million, the largest jump since 2003. Meanwhile, data from the US Commerce Department released on Wednesday showed that bookings for durable goods decreased 2.5%.
And, in a story that could yet run and run, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has defended the Dollar's position as the global reserve currency, following China's calls for it to be replaced. Pointing to the ongoing global financial crisis, China's Central Bank governor, Zhou Xiaochuan had mooted the idea for a new reserve currency run by the International Monetary Fund.
Things haven't exactly been rosy in the Eurozone either, as industrial output plunged by 3.5% in January compared with the previous month - the biggest decline since records began in 1990. Compared with January 2008, the official Eurostat figures showed that industrial production across the 16 nations that share the Euro fell 17.3%. Analysts were taken aback at the scale of the drop.
Germany's Munich-based Ifo Institute for Economic Research released a German business confidence survey on Wednesday. The business confidence index has dropped to a historical low of 82.1 in March from 82.6 in February. German consumer confidence is in the doldrums too and has declined for the first time in seven months. Workers are increasingly worried about keeping their jobs amid the worst recession since World War II.
Italian consumers aren't feeling any more confident than their German counterparts. A report from ISAE said the seasonally adjusted consumer confidence index for Europe's fourth-largest economy dropped to 99.8 from 104 in February, returning to levels last seen at the end of 2008.
So, the picture appears to be bleak all over Europe. However, it is perhaps Spain which is suffering most of all. Spanish new housing starts fell 42% last year as a decade-long housing boom went bust, data from the country's Housing Ministry has shown. Housing starts fell to 360,044 last year, from 615,976 in 2007. The resulting decline in housing investment pushed the wider Spanish economy into recession at the end of last year.
Traders who had started to look to Asia to minimise their risk were caught out this week after Japan's finance minister announced that Japan's exports took a record plunge in February, falling by nearly half compared with a year earlier. In line with forecasts, exports fell 49.4% year-on-year to 3.526tn yen ($36bn; £24.6bn). This data comes after figures for January showed year-on-year exports nearly halved that month as well.
So, no matter where you are, it's all pretty dire. But I suppose we can all console ourselves that we're not having our windows and cars smashed by anti-capitalist protestors.
Have a great weekend.