After four years of doing absolutely nothing to propel the moribund Euro Zone economy, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi (aka Super Mario) finally unveiled the ECB’s version of bond buying last week, where it will buy €60 billion ($68 billion) of bonds a month in an effort to boost stagnant growth and fight falling prices. The ECB will fire up the printing presses in March and will conduct the purchases “until we see a sustained adjustment in the path of inflation.” So although the European version of QE at first seemed half the size of that in the US and UK, the open-ended prospect seemed to quell fears that it was not enough.
While on the topic of Europe, it is worth noting that there is a big election in Greece today, where Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the leftwing, anti- austerity Syriza party is leading in the polls. There are fears that Tsipras might lead Greece out of the euro zone (the so-called “Grexit”), but it now seems more likely that he will seek a restructuring of debt with the Troika (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund).
As a reminder, Greece has suffered through six years of economic contraction, triggered by over-the-top spending, the financial crisis and then exacerbated by fiscal belt-tightening imposed by the Troika. According to Capital Economics, Greek “gross domestic product is now a quarter smaller than it was in 2008. A quarter of the working age population is out of work. Only half of the eligible young have jobs.” Both the Troika and Greece have reason to come to terms, which should prevent a Grexit, at least for now.
Here in the US, the week ahead should be a little less dramatic. The Federal Reserve will conduct a two-day policy meeting, where it is widely expected to maintain its recently adopted language that it “can be patient in beginning to normalize the stance of monetary policy.” With wage growth tepid, no meaningful increase in core inflation and global uncertainty swirling, the Fed is likely to sit still and do nothing.
On Friday, the first reading of fourth quarter growth is due. GDP is expected to increase at a 3.2 percent annualized rate. That would be downshift from the strong 5 percent gain in the third quarter, but would still be a lot better than the 2.25 percent pace of the recovery.
Finally, there was some concern late last week, after the National Association of Realtors released its Existing Home Sales report. While sales accelerated in December, for all of 2014, existing home sales dropped by 3.1 percent from 2013, the first annual decrease since 2010. The problem was a lack of inventory, but as Bill McBride of Calculated Risk points out, “the NAR inventory data is ‘noisy’ and difficult to forecast based on other data.” The good news is that “distressed sales were down sharply - and normal sales up around 7 percent.” With the economy strengthening, confidence building and mortgage rates at 18-month lows, home sales should accelerate in 2015.
MARKETS: Stocks rose, snapping a three-week losing streak and the euro dropped to its lowest level ($1.12) in 11 years.
- DJIA: 17,672, up 0.9% on week, down 0.8% YTD
- S&P 500: 2051, up 1.6% on week, down 0.3% YTD
- NASDAQ: 4757, up 2.7% on week, up 0.5% YTD
- Russell 2000: 1189, up 0.3% on week, down 1.3% YTD
- 10-Year Treasury yield: 1.79% (from 1.84% a week ago)
- March Crude Oil: $45.59, down 7.2% on week
- February Gold: $1,292.60, up 1.2% on week
- AAA Nat'l average price for gallon of regular Gas: $2.04 (from $3.29 a year ago)
THE WEEK AHEAD:
DR Horton, Microsoft, Texas Instruments
3M, Apple, AT&T, Caterpillar, Coach, DuPont, Pfizer, P&G, Yahoo
FOMC 2-day meeting begins
8:30 Durable Goods Orders
9:00 Case Shiller Home Price Index
10:00 New Home Sales
10:00 Consumer Confidence
2:00 Fed Policy Announcement
Amazon, Conoco Phillips, Ford, Harley Davidson, Visa
8:30 Weekly Jobless Claims
10:00 Pending Home Sales
Altria, Chevron, MasterCard
8:30 Q4 GDP (1st estimate)
9:45 Chicago PMI
9:55 U Mich Consumer Sentiment