10 jobseekers for every vacancy
With England trouncing France in the rugby and Amir Khan out-boxing Marco Antonio Barrera, last weekend felt like a good time to be British. Unfortunately, the positivity hasn't lasted. Formula 1 has changed its rules to all but ensure that Ferrari and not McClaren (and, of course, Lewis Hamilton) will win the drivers' championship next year and almost all of the data released from the UK has been dire.
There is now an average of 10 jobseekers for every vacancy advertised in the UK, with 60 people chasing each job in the south east. A report published by the Office for National Statistics on Wednesday showed UK unemployment at two million. Meanwhile, the British Chambers of Commerce has estimated that UK unemployment will reach 3.2 million - or just over 10% of the workforce - by the second half of next year.
Housing data is not much more positive. The fall in UK house prices gathered pace in January, according to the government's own house price index. Prices were 11.5% lower than in January 2008, an increase in the 10.2% annual fall seen in December. The price of the average UK property is now down to £195,724, a fall of £26,034 in the past year. Prices have been falling fastest in Northern Ireland, down 14.3%, and are still highest in London, where the average home costs £301,383.
Adding to these woes, the International Monetary Fund has predicted that the recession will last longer in the UK than in any of the world's other major economies. The IMF has warned that the UK will be the only member of the G7 group of leading industrial countries that will continue to see its economy shrink in 2010. The IMF said the UK economy will shrink 3.8% this year and 0.2% in 2010. By contrast, IMF predictions see the G7 nations' economies declining 3.2% on average in 2009, before growing 0.2% next year.
Confirmation that Barclays is in talks over the sale of its exchange-traded fund business iShares helped the pound make some gains. However, both the Euro and the US Dollar quickly clawed back their early losses and Sterling has now reached a six-week low against the Euro.
Across the Atlantic, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested in a televised interview on CBS' 60 Minutes programme that the US recession would "probably" end in 2009, but that his country had averted the risk of plunging into a depression. Bernanke's remarks came ahead of a two-day meeting by the Fed that was swiftly followed by the US Dollar sinking to new depths.
The Federal Reserve said that it will buy almost $1.2trn worth of debt and expand purchases of mortgage-related debt to help boost lending and promote economic recovery. The size of the move stunned investors, and caused the Dow Jones stock index to jump almost 200 points. It is hoped that the measures will boost mortgage lending and the struggling housing market by lowering interest rates on mortgages and other forms of consumer debt.
However, in the short term at least, the news has caused a mammoth drop for the US Dollar. The greenback experienced its third biggest one-day decline on Wednesday since daily pricing began back in 1970, bringing a swift end to the rally that had pushed the Dollar to the highest levels since 2006. The greenback ended Wednesday down against both the Euro and the Pound, and reached a three-week low against the Canadian Dollar.
The US Dollar was kept under pressure by the gloomy results from the Empire State manufacturing survey, which fell 4 points in March to -38.2, a new record low. Meanwhile, the housing market index from the National Association of Home Builders (ranked on a scale of 1-100) was unchanged at 9, from January's all-time low of 8.
There was, however, one piece of positive news from the US. Retail sales fell by just 0.1% compared with the same month last year, better than the 0.5% drop analysts were expecting. American consumers have become more cautious amid difficult economic conditions, cutting back on more expensive items such as new cars, but continuing to flock to supermarkets and discount stores in search of bargains.
Risk appetite has continued to dominate European markets, which have been posting increases of around and above 2% all week. Financial ministers from the G20 concluded their summit in London over the weekend, and vowed to do "whatever is necessary" to fix the global economy. This statement is likely to include measures to supervise freewheeling hedge funds and restore bank lending by dealing with the shaky securities burdening their finances. The announcements saw the EUR-GBP rate return to its highest level since late February, but the Euro also made notable gains against the Swiss Franc.
There was, however, some troubling data released in the Eurozone. The Centre for European Economic Research German economic sentiment survey fell to -90 from -86.2 in February. Meanwhile, economic sentiment is seen at -8, down from -5.8 in the prior month.
Meanwhile, a report from Spain's National Statistics Institute showed Spanish home sales fell 39% on the year in January, pointing to a deepening correction for Spain's once-flourishing home-building industry. Sales had fallen by 26% in December and 36% in November.
Hopefully next week's data releases will follow the example of the gorgeous springtime weather and brighten up. Until then, have a great weekend.