Blaming the weather for high unemployment

By Pedro Nicolaci da Costa

WASHINGTON (BestGrowthStock) – Snowstorms have repeatedly battered parts of the United States this winter, making it more difficult to discern returning weakness in the economy from

seasonal distortions.

That means key U.S. data on jobs and manufacturing for February, which hold big implications for global financial markets, could lead to a befuddled reaction from investors.

Confusion will also likely reign in Europe where fears about Greece’s financial situation, potentially exacerbated by speculative activity in bond markets, have kept the euro zone’s single currency under pressure.

China, a growing contributor to the global economic outlook, will release a business sentiment survey, which analysts expect to slip for a second month as the country tightens credit.

But the major indicator to watch is employment since it has a direct effect on the consumer spending that powers two-thirds of the world’s largest economy.

The forecasting range is unusually wide, but median projections point to a loss of 50,000 jobs in February. The jobless rate is seen ticking back up to 9.8 percent after a January decline.

“Everybody who’s thinking the economy is heading for a double dip (recession) is going to say this is evidence of that, and every one saying the economy is doing fine will dismiss it because of the weather,” said Bob Barbera, chief economist at the Investment Technology Group in New York.

He is confident that economic activity, which registered an impressive 5.9 percent growth rate in the fourth quarter, is on a sustainable path. “Don’t mistake a snow cone for a double dip,” he said.

Even if growth does gain traction, the economy has lost 8.4 million jobs in just over two years as the country experienced its worst recession since the Great Depression. And the trend suggests those jobs will not return very quickly.

“The underlying trend to us is concerning because jobless claims are signaling that, at best, employment is probably flat right now to possibly still falling slowly,” said Abiel Reinhart, economist at JP Morgan.

First-time claims jumped to 496,000 in the latest week. Coupled with very weak numbers on housing, the figures sparked concern that the U.S. rebound could be losing steam.

A GREEK DRAMA

While the Greek debacle has thus far not had a major impact on global economic activity, analysts fear another round of severe bank losses could crimp credit markets just as they are starting to recover.

Bank lending all but seized up late in 2008 after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and AIG required a huge and controversial bailout from Washington.

With the European Central Bank due to meet on Thursday, all eyes will be focused squarely on any mention of the continent’s highly indebted trouble spots, which include not only Greece but also Portugal, Spain and Ireland.

Greece’s prime minister will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday as signs grow that diplomatic efforts are under way to resolve Greece’s debt crisis.

“The institutional corset of the euro area, the structural inflexibility of their economies and the ECB’s primary focus on inflation is likely to accentuate the internal tensions and lead to a weakening of the real value of the euro and a period of subdued relative growth,” said Christian Broad, economist at Barclays Capital.

If European growth does languish, the global economy will have to look east, even though China’s breakneck expansion appears to be easing off.

The country’s official survey of purchasing managers is forecast to fall to 55.45 in February, down from 55.8 in January as the authorities presided over a modest tightening of monetary policy. The central bank raised reserve requirements just before the Lunar New Year.

Lakshman Achuthan, managing director of the Economic Cycle Research Institute, says his firm’s alphabet soup of leading indicators was already pointing to a moderation even before the government’s actions on the monetary side.

“Whatever intention they had on these tightening moves may have already begun before they tightened,” Achuthan said.

With government debt levels rising sharply and simultaneously around the world, experts see plenty of drags on the economy. Finding new engines for growth may be much harder.

Stock Market

(Editing by Kenneth Barry)

Blaming the weather for high unemployment