ECB cuts deposit rate below zero Central bank hopes historic move will help to avert deflation
The ECB cut its main refinancing rate to 0.15 per cent, from 0.25 per cent, and its deposit rate from zero to minus 0.10 per cent, becoming the first major central bank to venture into negative territory.
The ECB hopes the move will lift inflation by weakening the euro and spurring lending in the bloc’s more troubled periphery.
Rising demand for skilled workers could push up salaries across more sectors of the U.S. economy, according to the Federal Reserve’s latest survey of regional economic conditions.
Hiring activity in general was “steady to stronger” across the U.S. from April through late May, according to the Fed’s “beige book,” based on anecdotal information about economic activity throughout the central bank’s 12 districts. Overall, the report pointed to an economy that was improving from its weak performance earlier this year, boosted largely by stronger consumer spending and job growth. The report comes two weeks ahead of the Fed’s June 17-18 policy meeting.
Companies in several regions reported difficulty filling jobs for highly skilled and upper-management positions. (…)
The Fed banks in Minneapolis, Kansas City and San Francisco reported pay increases were concentrated among workers in information technology, engineering, professional services and some skilled trades, according to the report. Outside of those jobs, few workers are seeing salary bumps.
In the Cleveland region, “skilled trade workers are very difficult to find and are driving up wages,” according to the report. In the Dallas region, a staffing firm said employers are paying higher relocation bonuses for talented employees, “particularly engineers.”
A New York-area employment agency said many candidates are getting multiple offers and that could put upward pressure on salaries going forward. A Maryland staffing agency echoed that sentiment.
The report highlighted steady improvement across other parts of the economy after a harsh winter. More than half the Fed districts pointed to strong auto sales, with other regions seeing “steady” sales. In the Philadelphia region, dealers reported “phenomenal” sales in April and have a bullish outlook for the rest of the year. (…)
For the first time in six years, the share of people who either have a job or are looking for one is on the rise in a majority of U.S. states, a sign one of the deepest scars of the economic crisis could be healing.
Most states have experienced sharp declines in labor force participation since the 2007-2009 recession, but a Reuters analysis of government data found a reversal could be underway.
Anecdotal reports suggest that in many parts of the country, demand for labor appears to be growing enough to get people who had dropped out of the workforce to restart their job hunts.
“We are getting more job creation and we are seeing more people come in,” said Paul Turek, a labor economist with Washington state’s Employment Security Department. (…)
The state data, which can diverge from the national statistics because of adjustments the government makes to account for seasonal swings and other local economic factors, suggests she [Yellen] may be right to wait. (…)
Some more facts on housing
from a recent survey conducted by the MacArthur Foundation titled “How Housing Matters” (via Zerohedge):
As MarketWatch reports, “although mortgage rates are still quite low, down payments, poor credit and tighter lending standards remain three of the biggest hurdles for buying a home, especially among young people, Blomquist says. “The slow jobs recovery for young adults has made it harder for them to save and to get a mortgage.” Some 84% of young people are delaying major life decisions due to the poor economy, according to a 2013 survey by Generation Opportunity, a nonprofit think tank based in Arlington, Va.”
What’s more, at least 15% of American homeowners (or residents of 78 counties across the country) were living in housing markets where the monthly mortgage payment on a median-priced home requires more than 30% of the monthly median household income — long considered the maximum for rent/mortgage repayments. Housing costs above that threshold are “unaffordable by historic standards,” says Daren Blomquist, vice president at real estate data firm RealtyTrac. In New York county/Manhattan, mortgage payments represent 77% of the median income and in San Francisco County represents 70%.
As a result of a broken economy and lack of good job opportunities the “American dream” is now on its last legs: more than half of Americans, or 54%, believe that buying a home has become less appealing than it once was while some 43% of respondents have indicated that it is no longer the case that owning a home is “an excellent long-term investment and one of the best ways for people to build wealth and assets.” Even as seven in 10 renters (70%) aspire to owning a home, high proportions (58%) believe that “renters can be just as successful as owners at achieving the American Dream.”
But there is hope as younger people find jobs, they normalize their lives:
U.S. Household Formations Normalizing
The number of U.S. households climbed 1.38 million in March 2013 from the previous year (according to the Census Bureau’s population survey), in line with the two-decade median (1.35 million). That’s a marked improvement from the post-recession low of 0.36 million in 2010, and the third straight year above one million. Of note, the number of households headed by someone younger than 25 rose for the first time in seven years, likely due to the improved labor market. While household formations likely slowed more recently, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Vacancy Survey, the pent-up supply of potential homeowners should drive housing activity for some time. (BMO Capital)
Stats on mortgage apps for purchase remain weak on the surface but Raymons James notes that the seasonally adjusted index is up 11% since February 21, which marked a 19-year low.
The service sector is uber important in the U.S. and is a big job creator:
Services-Sector Growth Accelerates The U.S. non-manufacturing sector expanded further last month, according to data released Wednesday by the Institute for Supply Management. Employment, however, continued to lag other activity indicators.
The Institute for Supply Management’s nonmanufacturing purchasing managers index increased to 56.3 in May from 55.2 in April. It was the highest reading since August 2013.
The report said that 14 industries reported increased business activity in May, with one reporting decreased activity.
Some ISM subindexes increased further after posting big advances in April. The new orders index rose to 60.5 in May after it advanced to 58.2 in April from 53.4 in March.
The ISM business activity/production index increased to 62.1—the highest level since February 2011—after jumping to 60.9 from 53.4 in March. The ISM employment index increased to 52.4 from 51.3 in April. (…)
Non-manufacturers maintained their pace of inventory building last month. The ISM inventory index held at 55.5. The prices index edged up to 61.4 from 60.8. Just as in the manufacturing report, non-manufacturers report higher prices for food and steel products. (Charts from Bespoke Investment)
Hotels are a big part of the service sector and are directly impacted by the economy. In its latest weekly measure, Smith Travel Research reported that U.S. industrywide hotel revenues per available room (revpar) increased 7.7% Y/Y during the week ended May 31 from year-ago levels following growth rates of 9.2%, 9.6%, 10.6%, and 13.6% respectively during the previous 4 weeks.
And by the way, average daily room rates are up 4.7% Y/Y nationally.
The nation’s trade deficit widened 7% in April from a month earlier to its highest level in two years, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. Imports rose 1.2%, but exports fell 0.2%, marking the fourth decline in five months.
The report suggests American households and firms stepped up spending after snowstorms and icy weather walloped the economy in the winter. But much of their spending—on items like cars, cellphones and machinery—flowed outside the U.S. to foreign firms, undercutting domestic growth.
The export drop suggests sluggishness in overseas economies like Europe is sapping demand abroad for American-made products and services. Exports declined across the board, hitting farmers, jewelers, jet-engine makers and drilling-equipment manufacturers.
Credit Suisse economists on Wednesday said they expect the economy to grow at a 3% annual rate from April through June, down from a previous estimate of 4%. Several other economists made similar moves. Barclays Capital dropped its estimate to 2.9% from 3% in light of the trade figures.
Note that non-petroleum imports rose 5.7% in the 3 months to April, 25% saar!
China’s Services PMI printed at 50.7 – its lowest since August 2011, as the business expectations index dropped to an 11-month low. The Composite PMI improved (after 3 months of contraction) but most notably, the composite employment declines at the fastest pace since Feb 2009. What is perhaps most worrisome is, as Markit notes, “The latest survey signalled the second-weakest degree of optimism since the series began in November 2005.”
Eurostat said the volume of sales rose 0.4% from March, and 2.4% from April 2013. That was the largest year-to-year increase since March 2007, when sales rose 3.0%.
Figures released by Eurostat Wednesday showed consumer spending rose by just 0.1% in the first quarter, and the prolonged weakness of household expenditure has been a major contributor to the weak performance of the euro-zone economy since the 2008 financial crisis.
However, core retail sales declined 0.1% in April following no change in March. January and February were up 1.6% in total. Last 4 months: +1.5% or +4.6% saar.
But Markit just released its May Retail PMI for the Eurozone, suggesting that retail sales were weak for a third consecutive month:
Eurozone retail sales were broadly unchanged from the previous month in May, according to the latest PMI® data from Markit. This stagnation at the aggregate level masked contrasting trends across the big-three eurozone nations, however, with a solid drop in sales in Italy countering a notable rise in trade in Germany and a slight uptick in France.
The Markit Eurozone Retail PMI – which tracks month-on-month changes in the value of retail sales – registered at 49.9 in May, broadly in line with the 50.0 mark that separates expansion from contraction and below April’s three-year high of 51.2. When measured on a year-on-year basis, eurozone retail sales were down to the greatest extent for three months, albeit only moderately.
This recent lull could mean troubles in coming months:
Stocks continued to accumulate, however, growing for the sixth straight month partly as a consequence of sales being lower than targeted levels. The gap
between actual sales and plans was indeed the widest since last October. As well as trimming their spending, retailers also parted with more staff during May, extending the current sequence of decline in eurozone retail employment to nine months. The rate of job shedding was little-changed from the modest pace
recorded in the previous month. Only in Germany did retail staffing levels rise since April.
May’s survey meanwhile showed a further easing of the rate of wholesale price inflation faced by eurozone retailers, to the slowest in more than four years. In spite of cost inflation having moderated, however, gross margins again fell sharply and to the greatest extent in four months.
Businesses will likely have to wait until after the November elections to know if there will be a renewal of popular expired business tax breaks, ranging from credits for R&D to deductions for equipment purchases.
A bill to extend the tax breaks failed in May, and on Tuesday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said a deal is unlikely before the midterm elections in November, according to a Reuters report.
The bill to extend the tax credits had been approved by the Senate Finance Committee, but Senate Republicans blocked a vote on the bill on the floor.
In recent weeks, the House had moved to renew and make permanent the expired tax breaks, including the research credit and bonus depreciation, which would allow businesses to deduct 50% of many capital purchases up front. However those don’t stand much of a shot in getting through the Senate.
“The House and Senate…can’t even agree on which measures should be renewed, at what levels and for how long,” Corey Boles, a senior analyst at political consultancy group Eurasia Group, said in a note to clients this week.
Though these tax breaks are often retroactively renewed, businesses are already changing their business plans while they wait out the stalemate in Congress.
Previous tax breaks “allowed us to hire three or four more new positions as well as purchase over $1 million worth of equipment,” Dominic Wade, president and owner of Mohawk Fabric Co., told CFO Journal.
While larger businesses can afford to wait out Congress, many smaller businesses like Mohawk don’t have the cash flow.
“I can’t make plans today or six months from now if I don’t know… what the tax code is,” Mr. Wade said.
Germany is set to lift its ban on fracking as early as next year, after caving in to business demands that it should reduce its dependency on Russian energy and boost competitiveness with US manufacturers.
Applications to carry out the controversial process for extracting the country’s estimated 2.3tn cubic metres shale gas reserves will be subject to an environmental impact assessment under new legislation to be discussed by the cabinet before the summer recess. (…)
Germany’s estimated reserves of shale gas are significantly smaller than those of Poland and France, which have the biggest recoverable reserves in Europe. However, German shale gas, which is concentrated in its northern states, still has the potential to provide a long-term domestic supply. (…)
“Through fracking technology, Germany could obtain more than 35 per cent of its gas consumption from domestic sources,” the BDI statement said. (…)
Atlanta has become a surprise success for electric car makers and the reasons—state subsidies and unfettered access to carpool lanes—offer a telling lesson in what it takes to lift demand for the vehicles.
Georgia provides more than $4,000 in income-tax credits on average for an electric-car purchase, cut-rate electricity, employer support of recharging stations and, in Atlanta, access to high-occupancy vehicle lanes in the city’s congested roadways.
Atlanta’s emergence as the No. 2 metropolitan market in the U.S. after San Francisco for electric-vehicle sales, according to researcher IHS Automotive, illustrates how public subsidies remain key to luring buyers away from gasoline-powered vehicles, and the extent to which employers and friends can influence plug-in car sales.
Atlanta recently leapfrogged Seattle to claim the second-highest level of electric vehicle registrations among major U.S. metropolitan areas in the 12 months through March. San Francisco is still No. 1. Cheap electric power helps: Georgia Power Co., the primary utility in Atlanta, offers a plug-in charging, off-peak rate of 1.3 cents per kilowatt-hour. The average cost across the nation is 11.88 cents a kilowatt-hour, says the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The share of electric cars in Atlanta is small—just 2.15% of registrations—but that is more than five times the national average share of .38%, according to researcher IHS. Atlanta is the only city in the top 14 that isn’t on the West Coast and number 15 is Austin, Texas, which has .47% share of registrations.
“I think it’s because the technology and understanding and how it fits into the lifestyle of people is really starting to resonate,” said Jules Toraya, the Zero Waste manager with the city of Atlanta, which has tried to streamline the process for businesses to install charging equipment. Residents are saying, “when you factor what you pay, and what I am saving, it is essentially a free car.”
(…) Capitol City tells prospective buyers they can lease a Leaf for two years for as low as $199 a month after a $2,499 down payment. Including $1,387 in taxes and other fees, and an estimated $15 a month for electricity, that is $9,022 to drive the car for 24 months. But after factoring in the $5,000 Georgia tax credit, and savings on gasoline, the dealership says driving the Leaf will cost just $28 a month.
Atlanta’s electric car boom also highlights the risk auto makers run when they rely on government policy to support sales.
Georgia spent $943,665 on tax exemptions for 233 residents in 2012, according to the state, the most recent year for which figures were available. Auto makers said last year’s outlays are certain to have grown substantially as volumes jumped. Some Georgia lawmakers, concerned by the rising costs of electric car subsidies, want to phase them out.
“There are times when it makes sense to bootstrap a technology if that is for the greater good. But at some point, where a subsidy on a two-year lease makes it essentially free, I think that is too generous and not good policy,” said Alpharetta, Ga., Rep. Chuck Martin, who proposed the bill to eliminate the tax credit of up to $5,000 a car.
Coca-Cola’s downtown Atlanta headquarters recently doubled to 75 the number of parking spaces available with charging spots. “The idea there is that employees are here eight or nine hours a day. They will get the equivalent of half a tank,” said Eric Ganther, a transportation planner for Coca-Cola.
Coke estimates that more than 100 of its Atlanta employees drive to work in electric cars out of 4,900 workers on campus.
Tim Goudie, who works in marketing at Coca-Cola, says his Leaf cost $320 a month to lease with the credits figured in. Its electricity costs him $20 a month, compared with between $200 and $220 a month in gasoline. Combine that with access to the high-occupancy vehicle lane, and the advantages are strong for an electric vehicle, he said.
Mr. Goudie says a co-worker asked about his Leaf, “and I went through the facts and the figures and the savings and have convinced him to go buy it.”