Recovery takes a breather
By Pedro Nicolaci da Costa
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - It was fun while it lasted.
After several strong quarters, the global economic recovery appears to be sputtering. In particular, the industrial sector, a key driver of the bounce-back from a historic worldwide recession, looks to be fraying.
"People need to seriously consider the scenario where global industrial growth, once again, starts to throttle back -- because it's not that far away," said Lakshman Achuthan, managing director of the Economic Cycle Research Institute.
A report on U.S. durables goods orders due Wednesday should give fresh insight into manufacturing demand after an unexpected plunge in the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank's index of May factory activity caught investors by surprise.
Economists are looking for a 2.2 percent decline in durables orders for May, according to a Reuters poll. A closely watched measure of non-defense orders excluding aircraft, seen as a proxy for business investment, is projected to inch up just 0.2 percent.
"This week will bring what is likely to be another round of discouraging news, with May's durable goods orders data pointing to further evidence that the manufacturing recovery is losing momentum," said John Higgins, economist at Capital Economics.
The deterioration in U.S. manufacturing is being exacerbated by a slowdown in Japan, which is essentially in recession in the wake of a devastating earthquake and tsunami.
Japan's pullback has had a perceptible effect on global production, especially in the automobile sector. A report due Tuesday on Japanese exports is expected to show they plunged 12.4 percent in the year to April. Japan is also set to post a rare trade deficit for April.
Still, not all analysts share in the pessimism, with some believing the soft patch will be fleeting.
"The market is now underestimating the resilience of the economic recovery," argues Eric Green, economist at TD Securities.
Japan's central bank held off on further monetary easing this past week, a sign that it expects a relatively quick rebound from the disaster-induced slump.
GREEK SAGA DRAGS ON
Haggling in Europe over the size and shape of Greece's bailout package will continue to capture the attention of financial markets, which have been rife with speculation that the country will eventually have to restructure its burdensome debt load of some $470 billion.
A Reuters poll earlier this month showed that among 28 economists and 15 fund managers, only three said a restructuring could be avoided.
Fitch cut Greece's credit rating by three notches on Friday, pushing it deeper into junk territory, and warned of more downgrades if the EU and the IMF do not produce a credible plan for the debt-ridden country.
The IMF plays a key role in the debt negotiations, and some fear the leadership vacuum could derail the talks. John Lipsky, a former vice chairman of JP Morgan and previously the No. 2 official at the Fund, has taken over the role of managing director in the interim.
As leaders of the Group of Eight wealthy nations gather in Deauville, France Thursday and Friday, the topic of succession at the multilateral lender's top spot will be high on the list of debate topics.
When the scandal first erupted there was talk the IMF might part with the tradition of always having a European leader and select a policymaker who hails from increasingly influential emerging economies.
However, as the process has evolved, it seems clear that old habits do indeed die hard. European leaders were racing to nominate a successor before the G8 Summit, with French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde in pole position.
(Reporting by Pedro Nicolaci da Costa; Editing by Dan Grebler)