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Signs of recovery starting to sway the skeptical

General Angela Calla 1 Feb

Looks like a V shaped recovery afterall

Paul Vieira, Financial Post 

OTTAWA — Despite all the angst in financial markets over sovereign debt and the populist influence on banking reform proposals, the economies in the United States and Canada have chugged along the road to recovery at a pace that’s surprising even the most skeptical of analysts.

Data released Friday indicate U.S. GDP grew in the fourth quarter, an estimated 5.7%, at its fastest pace in six years. Meanwhile in Canada, data show November growth was stronger than expected, at 0.4%, while revisions to September and October figures indicate the economy was much stronger than earlier thought.

“It couldn’t have been that easy, could it?,” asked Stewart Hall, economist at HSBC Securities Canada, who in previous notes had expressed caution about a slow, uneven recovery. “Yet charting out the month over month GDP looks an awful lot like a “V” shaped recovery.”

Prior to the release of this data, markets had been consumed with worries in the aftermath of the financial crisis, be it the debt levels of industrialized countries; a slowdown in Chinese growth as Beijing looks to tighten credit conditions, and measures proposed by the U.S. White House that could scale back the size of U.S. banks, leading them in the meantime to restrict credit growth as given their uncertain future.

“One of the important lessons of the crisis was that it was often helpful to focus squarely on more comprehensible macro-cyclical dynamics than on the noise and complexity of these other areas,” Dominic Wilson, director of global macro and markets research for Goldman Sachs, said in a note this week.

“The latest focus on the banks might inadvertently restrict credit or tighten financial conditions in ways that do alter the macro path. But we think it makes sense to stay more focused on the economic news rather than shifting views too much on the basis of handicapping the twists and turns of possible legislation and the inevitable news from Washington.”

As for the nuts and bolts of the data, analysts had mixed views.

In the U.S., economists at Capital Economics argued the big estimated headline gain was largely due to inventory rebuilding – hence, there’s some skepticism that will kickstart a self-sustaining recovery.

But Dawn Desjardins, assistant chief economist at Royal Bank of Canada, said the U.S. data suggest “the consumer, after being in hiding the previous-six quarters, re-emerged in the second-half of 2009. … This was a reflection of rising confidence that the recession was ending, the effect of government programs and a very low interest rate environment. Going forward, we expect that consumer spending will remain positive but that increases will be moderate as the hangover from the buying binge in previous years constrains activity.”

It is not just the consumer. Business investment also surprised on the strong side, with growth of 2.9% after a 5.9% drop in the previous quarter. Investment in equipment and software jumped 13.3%, well above the 1.5% expansion in the third quarter. Net exports also added to U.S. GDP, in a sign that the country is beginning capitalize on its weaker currency and stellar productivity when it comes to trade.

In Canada, the surprisingly strong November data – and upward revisions to September and October – have economists indicating that the recovery is for real, with some now penciling in growth of at least 4% for the fourth quarter, or above the Bank of Canada’s own projections. And remember, the central bank’s forecast is at the upper end of market projections.

“This is one of the most convincing signs so far that the Canadian recovery is for real, and neatly dovetails with the robust U.S. GDP result,” said Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Capital Markets.